Fyodor Dostoevsky claimed that, if instructed not to think of a polar bear, "You will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute." English journalist Oliver Burkeman (of The Guardian), a longtime skeptic of "the power of optimism," believes the same thing to be true about positive thinking: If you spend every minute worrying about being happy, you will paradoxically focus on the negative. Counterintuitive as it may be, Burkeman fleshes out his theory in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking (Farrar Straus Giroux, $25), exploring the various ways people have "followed the negative path to happiness." In doing so, Burkeman explores the teachings of Stoics, Buddhists, former presidents, and long-dead philosophers. He also celebrates the Day of the Dead in Mexico and visits the Kibera super-slum in Nairobi, where suffering is an everyday reality. Here in the states, he attends a motivational seminar led by that eternal optimist, George W. Bush. Happiness, Burkeman finds, lies somewhere between those two extremes. JEVA LANGE
Oliver Burkeman is a writer for The Guardian based in New York. He also writes a monthly column for Psychologies magazine.