“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
The Stoics of ancient Greece believed that our emotions were determined by our judgements. An event, in itself, had no emotional meaning. It is what we make of it that determines how we feel about it.
Oliver Burkeman, in his book “Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking” has a rather different, and in many ways refreshing take on happiness. His theory is that it is our constant effort to eliminate the negative that causes us to be anxious, insecure and unhappy. Rather like Daniel Wegner’s white bear experiment: if you are told NOT to think of a white bear you are way more likely to think of one. He advocates an alternate path to happiness in which you embrace the very things we try and avoid thinking about.
This may seem contrary to much of the stuff you read about both here, and in the field of positive psychology. But I believe it is a complementary approach. And let’s face it, there are times when simply being aware and switching patterns of thinking is just too much of a stretch.
Burkeman’s philosophy is broad-reaching and I can only touch on it here. So I will take 3 areas that you can experiment with should you choose.
3 Tips For The Pessimist to Find Happiness:
- Much of the problem area we fall in to is because of our sense of self and ego. So how about dissolving it, then we have nothing to worry about! If we were to take a high-powered microscope and look closely at our skin and the space around it would be impossible to say where one ends and the next begins. The dividing line between where the cells constantly floating off your body end, and where the stuff in the air begins is arbitrary to say the least. If you are willing to give up the traditional notion of ‘self’ then a whole area of worry around self-esteem just disappears. It suggests a different take on Buddhism and attachment.
- The good, the bad and the ugly. Accept your thoughts for what they are. By simply observing your thoughts as they come and go you don’t have to be afraid of them, and you dissolve their power.
- And now for the biggest one of all, your own mortality. By accepting our limited existence we can enjoy each and every moment of it. Here is my favourite TED talk on beauty and gratitude for life itself by Louie Schwartzberg.