The introduction to a self-help book is almost always a spoiler: In the chapters that follow, you, the reader, will learn how to get a promotion, make a better first impression, save your marriage, or lower your cholesterol. This will lead to happiness.
The Antidote diverges from this theme. In the first chapter, author Oliver Burkeman explains that after years of reporting on the field of psychology, he has concluded that "the effort to try to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable." Armed with this thesis, Burkeman sets out to explore various alternatives to this effort, which he calls the negative paths to happiness.
但《解毒剂：无法忍受积极思维的人如何获得幸福》（ The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking）一书与这类主题背道而驰。在第一章中，作者奥利弗•伯克曼解释称，在从事了多年心理学领域的报道之后，他得出了一项结论：“很多情况下，为获得幸福感而付出的努力恰恰使我们陷入痛苦之中。”秉持这个观点，伯克曼着手探索各种不同于这种努力的替代方案，他将其称为通往幸福的消极路径。
He asks questions. Are these negative paths too extreme for the average person to implement? Can a successful reorientation to a negative path be achieved gradually (I will try to accept humiliation as inevitable), or does it have to be sudden and drastic (I will actively humiliate myself, over and over, in order to diminish my ego)?
The Antidote has been reviewed several times over the course of the past few months. In an effort to separate my review from the others, I'm tempted to talk about myself. Like many recent college graduates working as underpaid interns, I sometimes feel out-of-sorts. Reading this book on my morning commute convinced me that failure is both inevitable and beneficial. But to dwell on my personal circumstances would be to fall into a trap that this book manages, effortlessly, to avoid.
In a chapter titled "The Hidden Benefits of Insecurity, " Burkeman describes the human tendency to avoid insecurity and uncertainty at all costs. "But in chasing all that, " he adds, "we close down the very faculties that permit the happiness we crave." Here you might expect Burkeman to discuss the time he took an unfulfilling job that promised economic security, or the time he turned down a trip to Spain because he didn't speak Spanish. Instead he quotes the 20th century Catholic monk and mystic Thomas Merton, author of The Seven Story Mountain: "The truth that many people never understand, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you." Burkeman speaks to his audience in a way that establishes trust. He is a dutiful researcher and a listener. He quotes experts.
在“不安全的潜在好处”（The Hidden Benefits of Insecurity）这个章节中，伯克曼描述了人类不惜一切代价，竭力避免不安全感和不确定性的倾向。“但在追逐所有这些目标的过程中，”他补充说。“我们恰恰关闭了那种使我们渴望的幸福成为可能的官能。”读到此处，你或许预期伯克曼将讨论他的过往经历：他从事过一份不称心、但应该会带来经济安全感的工作，也曾由于不会说西班牙语而放弃一个去西班牙旅行的机会。但他没有。他引用了20世纪天主教僧侣、《七层山》（The Seven Story Mountain）一书作者、神秘的托马斯•默顿的一段话：“一个许多人怎么也搞不明白的事实是，越竭力避免受苦，就会遭受越多的苦难，因为一些更加琐碎且微不足道的事情会开始折磨你。”伯克曼以一种能够建立信任感的方式与他的听众沟通。他是一位尽职的研究者，一位倾听者。他所引述的，是专家的意见。
This is how we get to know Burkeman -- as a curious journalist rooting around for an argument, not as a born-again guru who uses his own story of suffering and healing to prove the validity of his personal brand of self-improvement. In each chapter he sits down with someone who has dedicated his or her professional life to exploring a particular negative path to happiness. He punctuates each interview with clear prose about human traits that make a negative path to happiness difficult to adopt. For example, in a chapter on methods for embracing failure, he writes bluntly that "perfectionism, at bottom, is fear-driven striving … [at] its extremes, it is an exhausting and permanently stressful way to live."
In the chapter on the danger of setting too many goals, Burkeman recounts meeting a man named Steve Shapiro in a bar in the West Village. Shapiro is a consultant who travels around the country hosting self-help seminars for business audiences. Unlike most consultants, Shapiro preaches against goal setting. He found this calling at a time when his obsession with career advancement had ruined his marriage. He argues that once you abandon the five-year-plan approach to life and business, you immediately have more focus and energy for the present moment. Pretty soon you are spending more time with your family and performing better at work.
Like more typical self-help gurus, Shapiro's method is designed to make your life happier and more productive. Which is why Shapiro is a perfect metaphor for this book. The Antidote argues that pursuing happiness leads to exhaustion and disappointment. Still, just as Shapiro is at home in a success-hungry business environment with his boardroom seminars and PowerPoint presentations, The Antidote is at home in the self-help section at Barnes and Noble. After all, Burkeman is not above making suggestions. In his Epilogue he offers, "You can treat these ideas [presented in the previous chapters] as a toolkit."
与那些更典型的自助大师一样，夏皮罗的方式旨在让人们的生活更幸福，更充实。这也是夏皮罗之所以堪称本书一个完美隐喻的原因所在。《解毒剂》一书声称，追寻幸福将使人筋疲力尽，失望连连。然而，正如夏皮罗可以在渴望成功的商界氛围中，游刃有余地使用PowerPoint幻灯片向公司高管们展示其理论一样，《解毒剂》一书完全可以毫不唐突地摆放在巴诺连锁书店（Barnes and Noble）的自助类书架上。毕竟，伯克曼也并非不屑于为读者提出他的建议。正如他在本书后记中所言，“读者可以把（之前章节中提出的）这些建议视为一个可身体力行的工具包。”
Unlike many self-help authors, however, Burkeman doesn't offer neat, 12-step prescriptions for health, wealth, or happiness. After painstakingly establishing the various negative paths to happiness -- Buddhist meditation, rejection of goals, acceptance of death's inevitability -- he winds up discouraged by his inability to wrap things up neatly. His language becomes clunky: "The negative path to happiness … [is] a path to a different kind of destination. Or maybe it makes more sense to say that the path is the destination? These things are excruciatingly hard to put into words, and the spirit of … [negative thinking] surely dictates that we do not struggle too hard to do so."
If it were up to me, the parting message of this exploration of negativity would be more positive. Specifically, "keep struggling." After all, in an earlier chapter, Burkeman convinced me that all failures are invigorating. Failure, he writes, "is happening only because you are pushing at the limits of your capabilities." This is a thrilling statement, because it suggests that in failing, you are being productive.
And that's what makes The Antidote so refreshing. Rather than offering pat answers up front, Burkeman conducts a serious investigation into the various negative paths to happiness. In admitting that these paths don't lead to one logical, conclusive method, Burkeman invites us to choose our own.