I often recall a conversation I once had with my sister, at the time Executive VP for HR in a large re-insurance firm. She mentioned a mail-room worker who was constantly purchasing anything Anthony Robbins published and going to seminars, and was an extremely positive thinker. “The sad thing is,” she said, “He’ll never get out of the mail room. He just doesn’t have it.”
In a nutshell, there’s the problem: contrary to what many believe, positive thinking doesn't necessarily lead to positive change. Sometimes, in fact, it leads to the opposite. Burkeman covers that, as well as issues such as happiness, goal setting, security/insecurity, failure, and death. In every chapter he presents evidence that the way we’ve been programmed to think may, in fact, not be the best way. For instance, in the chapter “The Safety Catch,” he talks about why the World Values Survey (among other research) has consistently found the world’s poorest countries to be among the happiest. In this chapter and others he discusses the work of philosopher Alan Watts, and throughout the book mentions thinkers from Pema Chödrön to Émile Coué to Epictetus.
This was a somewhat difficult book to read, in that it challenges ideas and beliefs that we are taught virtually throughout our lives. Rethinking, and possibly changing, things you've always "known" takes some effort.
Recommended reading for anyone who is not interested in having their mind run in the same rut all their life.
- Steve Lidkea