Is skepticism getting in the way of your happiness? Here’s how to be happy anyway!

Is skepticism getting in the way of your happiness? Here’s how to be happy anyway!

via GQ by Clay Skipper


Oliver Burkeman admits that he got into writing about psychology and mental well-being for The Guardian—with the regular (and not at all ambitiously-titled) column “This column will change your life”—partially as a cover.

“I think it’s a way of exploring things that you might be embarrassed to explore otherwise,” the 43-year-old says about his musings on the world of self-betterment—which covers everything from the acute anxiety of an unanswered text to the surprising good news about carrying around regret to, yes, meditation. “I’m interested in these things, and I struggle with these things, and I think secretly everyone does.”

He’s right on both counts, of course. There’s nobody who doesn’t want to be a better version of themselves—the version that so many books purport to help you find. And yet there’s nobody who’s likely to open a dinner party with, “You guys have to hear about the self-help book that changed my life.” (At least not if they want to be invited back.)

Part of that is because of the way society has stigmatised mental health—especially among men. But it’s also because self-help is corny, full of snake-oil salesmen, and because so much of it so damn obvious. (“So, just exercise and sleep more and answer emails and look at Instagram less, and I’ll be…happier?”)

Which is why Burkeman might be the perfect sherpa into this world. He’s curious enough to poke around in it, and yet skeptical enough to have a written a book (back in 2012) called The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking—and whose first chapter is “On Trying Too Hard to be Happy.”

Since we’d all like to be happy without trying too hard, we asked him for some help buying into the world that says it can help us do just that.

GQ: I feel like you approach these things with a very eyes-wide-open viewpoint. Would you characterise yourself as a skeptical person?

Oliver Burkeman: It’s easy to mock, and highly entertaining to do so, so I was happy to do that. One of the problems in this space is that there are ideas that seem like they would have backing and research, and they’re actually nonsense or damaging.

But there’s this inverse problem as well, which is that there are techniques and approaches that seem totally cheesy—I would say, in British vernacular, “hokey”—and you wouldn’t want to have anything to do with them. And so the skeptic in you is very ready to be like, “Aw come on.”

But then, when you look into it, it’s useful and it’s good and it works. Like a gratitude journal—that’s the kind of thing I think people would never admit to their friends that they do, that they write down five things they’re grateful for every morning.

But it’s relatively hard to dispute, the research or the anecdotal evidence, so at some point you’ve got to say, “Okay, what’s more important to me: my shield of cynicism, or actively making changes?” You’ve got to be skeptical about your skepticism as well…

…keep reading the full & original article HERE