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The pursuit of happiness and what you’re doing wrong


Kippreport speaks to Oliver Burkeman, author of ‘The Antidote: Happiness for people who cannot stand positive thinking’

June 22, 2014 5:02 by

By Nadine Sayegh

Around the world, people everywhere are chasing happiness; be it in the form of love, money, health or, in more unfortunate circumstances, simply a place to sleep, the ultimate aim of a human being is to be happy.

But it may come as a surprise to know just how many people are going about it all wrong.

Kippreport speaks to UK journalist and author Oliver Burkeman, following the release of his latest book, The Antidote: Happiness for people who cannot stand positive thinking.

“[Happiness], I don’t think there’s a more important topic. In fact I’m not even sure there are any other topics at all – isn’t every single human pursuit, on some level, part of an attempt to find happiness, whether for oneself or on a bigger level?,” Burkeman asks.

“Quite a lot of people claim there’s no point in asking questions about happiness, I realise, but I think they’re deceiving themselves – they ask those questions all the time, but in a disguised form.”

Self-help as a sin

Picture this: You have just broken up with your significant other, or lost your job – the first thing that many will do is flock to the self-help section at your local bookstore to ‘get your life in order’, but as Burkeman explains, it may cause more harm than good.

“Probably most of those books explicitly labelled self-help are useless rather than harmful; but a few are most certainly responsible for promoting a philosophy that causes much more stress and anxiety than happiness,” he explains.

The logic is sound; you end up putting much more pressure on yourself to actively pursue happiness, even though it might not be what is appearing naturally in your consciousness thus creating much more stress than you were originally experiencing.

Burkeman explains that the best way to achieve what you are looking for is to be on good terms with yourself, he says: “Don’t be a perfectionist about anything, if you can avoid it. Spend time with the people who mean the most to you, and time in nature. Get enough sleep. Ask yourself how you’d like to be remembered at your own funeral, and seek to live, so as to make it true. But be friendly to yourself.”

Social comparisons

Another issue that is getting a lot of attention in the conversation of psychological well-being is internet-based social comparisons. Many are signing into their social media profiles and are comparing their lives to those around them. This can cause a lot of anxiety and unhappiness.

“In times gone by, you’d only be able to compare yourself with those around you, and if you were lucky, you’d be doing better than them materially. Now, you’re guaranteed to be able to find somebody, somewhere, and probably very many people, who seem to have a much better life than you,” explains Burkeman.

However, there is a solution to this phenomenon that doesn’t require disappearing from the internet.

Burkeman says: “The crucial thing to remember is that the images people project on social media are fundamentally incomplete; you see the highlights, but not the everyday mundane reality, or the private sadnesses, and so on. Very often we make the mistake of ‘comparing our insides with other people’s outsides’ and the result is inevitably not happiness-inducing.”

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