@amit's notes

The Antidote




To criticise the power of positivity is to demonstrate that you haven’t really grasped it at all. If you had, you would stop grumbling about such things, and indeed about anything else. (Location 81)

That we yearn for neat, book-sized solutions to the problem of being human is understandable, but strip away the packaging, and you’ll find that the messages of such works are frequently banal. (Location 129)

‘Ask yourself whether you are happy,’ observed the philosopher John Stuart Mill, ‘and you cease to be so.’ At best, it would appear, happiness can only be glimpsed out of the corner of an eye, not stared at directly. (Location 146)

One under-appreciated cause of the global financial crisis of the late 2000s, she argues, was an American business culture in which even thinking about the possibility of failure – let alone speaking up about it at meetings – had come to be considered an embarrassing faux pas. (Location 329)

Irrational optimism suffused the financial sector, and the professional purveyors of optimism – the speakers and self-help gurus and seminar organisers – were only too happy to encourage it. (Location 334)

‘There are lots of ways of being miserable,’24 says a character in a short story by Edith Wharton, ‘but there’s only one way of being comfortable, and that is to stop running around after happiness.’ (Location 356)

Nature had bestowed uniquely upon humans, the Stoics argued, the capacity to reason, and therefore a ‘virtuous’ life – meaning a life proper and fitting to a human – entailed living in accordance with reason. (Location 458)

For the Stoics, the ideal state of mind was tranquility, not the excitable cheer that positive thinkers usually seem to mean when they use the word ‘happiness’. And tranquility was to be achieved not by strenuously chasing after enjoyable experiences, but by cultivating a kind of calm indifference towards one’s circumstances. (Location 463)

What actually causes suffering are the beliefs you hold about those things. (Location 484)

‘Our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within.’ (Location 489)

Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; (Location 509)

The premeditation of evils is the way to replace these irrational notions with more rational judgments: spend time vividly imagining exactly how wrong things could go in reality, and you will usually find that your fears were exaggerated. (Location 543)

tranquility results from replacing our irrational judgments with rational ones. (Location 672)

To live non-attachedly is to feel impulses, think thoughts, and experience life without becoming hooked by mental narratives about how things ‘should’ be, or should never be, or should remain forever. (Location 825)

You practised non-attachment, in other words. Whatever came up, negative or positive, you stayed present and observed it. (Location 879)

This is the first big step towards non-attachment: learning to view passing thoughts and feelings as if one were a spectator, not a participant. (Location 947)

The sorrow that accompanied these realisations, from a Buddhist point of view, is a good thing; it is the fertile soil in which compassion can take root. (Location 1084)

There is a good case to be made that many of us, and many of the organisations for which we work, would do better to spend less time on goalsetting, and, more generally, to focus with less intensity on planning for how we would like the future to turn out. (Location 1273)

Formulating a vision of the future requires, by definition, that you isolate some aspect or aspects of your life, or your organisation, or your society, and focus on those at the expense of others. (Location 1376)

‘You can have a broad sense of direction without a specific goal or a precise vision of the future,’ Shapiro told me. ‘I think of it like jazz, like improvisation. It’s all about meandering with purpose.’ (Location 1431)

‘The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning,’ (Location 1468)

A ‘bundle of perceptions’, to use Hume’s phrase, is still a real bundle of perceptions. But the fact remains that we have been using a term and a concept – the self – that on closer inspection isn’t at all what it seems. (Location 1598)

We’re not only distressed by our thoughts; we imagine that we are those thoughts. (Location 1648)

don’t you feel a certain tranquility when you seek to become the witness to your thoughts, rather than identifying with them completely? (Location 1692)

Schemes and plans for making things better fuel our dissatisfaction with the only place where happiness can ever be found – the present. (Location 1696)

To turn to face reality is to see that we exist in a condition of ‘fundamental groundlessness’. (Location 1975)

‘To be secure means to isolate and fortify the “I”, but it is just this feeling of being an isolated “I” which makes me feel lonely and afraid.’ (Location 2140)

Failure simply isn’t a topic on which ambitious people wish to spend much of their time. At best, it’s just depressing; at worst, it feels somehow infectious – as if the germs of disaster might infect your next project. (Location 2256)

Success happens in public; indeed, achieving celebrity is part of many people’s definition of what constitutes success. Failure is occasionally spectacular at first, but people who fail dwell largely in obscurity. (Location 2357)

There is an openness and honesty in failure, a down-to-earth confrontation with reality that is lacking at the higher altitudes of success. (Location 2484)

To fully embrace the experience of failure, not merely to tolerate it as a stepping-stone to success, is to abandon this constant straining never to put a foot wrong. It is to relax. (Location 2503)

To have made a failure could be depressing, no doubt, and even sometimes catastrophic. But it was not an across-the-board condemnation of an entire human life. (Location 2539)

‘The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the pre-natal abyss with much more calm than the one he is headed for.’ (Location 2746)

coming to understand death as something that there is no reason to fear, yet which is still bad because of what it brings to an end, might be the ideal middle path. (Location 2764)

the more that you remain aware of life’s finitude, the more you will cherish it, and the less likely you will be to fritter it away on distractions. (Location 2766)

Live a life suffused with the awareness of its own finitude, and you can hope to finish it in something like the fashion that Jean-Paul Sartre12 hoped to die: ‘quietly … certain that the last burst of my heart would be inscribed on the last page of my work, and that death would be taking only a dead man’. (Location 2791)

‘A good traveller has no fixed plans,’6 says the Chinese sage Lao Tzu, ‘and is not intent upon arriving.’ There could be no better way to make the journey. (Location 3044)

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The Antidote