The Negative Path to Happiness and Creative Pursuits

Positive thinking make you cringe? Hate self-help, or worse, addicted to it and can’t stop the cycle of elation and despair that accompanies the reading of these “reframing” texts?  There may be an “antidote.”

Oliver Burkeman tackles this problem head-on in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking  and may have a solution for the rest of us.  Personally, I have to admit I keep going back to those books, looking for that positive psychology fix but knowing ultimately it doesn’t hold for long. Lately, with a few life-altering life events, disasters, and other general chaos, I’ve realized that there’s no way around uncertainty.  There may be some underlying order to the chaos, but we don’t really seem to have access to that order for the most part, and embracing the uncertainty instead of trying to make our lives fit the mold seems to be the best way to combat the eternal stress that otherwise accompanies us on our trek.

Burkeman went around the world looking for examples of cultures and individuals who took the downward path to happiness, and he found some surprising results.  Check out the following video introducing the concept of his book:

You may be wondering what this has to do with business. The reason I posted this here on the Royal Pain blog is that I think the premise upheld in this book, that “learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity and becoming familiar with failure” (as Burkeman writes in The Guardian),  can help us with that ever-elusive pursuit of happiness and boost our creativity in life and work.

IMO, it frees us up to try new things, take that creative or entrepreneurial dive into the unknown, or take our businesses or our creative pursuits to the next level.  Maybe it’s the equivalent of saying, “ Screw it!” and going for whatever kernel of an idea you had instead of brooding over it in fear that it won’t work out.  Maybe this book should be the bible of the startup movement.

In any case, even just thinking about the premise makes me feel a little more at ease.  I’m not a failure because I can’t maintain positive thinking indefinitely.  And neither are you.  And if you are a failure at something else, so be it!  Roll around in it, let it cover you like catnip, and run into the next big idea, taking everything you learned on the way down with you.

Inspired by a post on, Against Positive Thinking: Uncertainty as the Secret of Happiness:



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