Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

What is the Role of Positivity in Mindfulness?

Author Oliver Burkeman was interviewed about his book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. His thoughts are a helpful antidote the tyranny of positive thinking as reflected in my recent review of the movie, “The Cure is …”


Burkeman says,”I think the premise from which I start is this idea that … relentless positivity and optimism is exactly the same thing as happiness; that the only way to achieve anything worthy of the name of happiness is to try to make all our thoughts and feelings as positive as possible, to set incredibly ambitious goals, to visualize success, which you get in a million different self-help books.”

To be sure, positivity in both thoughts and feelings is a vital ingredient for a happy life. It’s one of the five pillars of flourishing, as identified by positive psychology founder, Martin Seligman. The other pillars are engagement (much akin to mindfulness), relationships, meaning, and accomplishment.

Burkeman goes on to say, “I think that what is counterproductive about all these efforts that involve struggling very, very hard to achieve a specific emotional state is that by doing that, you often achieve the opposite.This begins to sound a lot like mindfulness.


With mindfulness we do not aim for a specific outcome. Rather, we seek to make contact with what is here and greet it with acceptance, curiosity, and openness.

Going a little deeper, the “cult of optimism” is just another form of attachment. We can become attached to anything–even something that is beneficial and this very attachment gives rise to dissatisfaction, misery, anguish, and suffering. On the flip side, we can become attached to the negative productions of our minds, and get lost in rumination. Neither extreme is helpful.

Right there in the middle is the best place. We don’t have to be afraid of negativity and we don’t have to indulge it. We don’t have to be obsessive about positivity, although we may need to encourage ourselves from time to time.

You can listen his NPR interview here.



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment minerva

    I have been reading your posts every so often for more than a year. I really find them helpful. They help me very much in my practice. I deeply thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Previous Posts

Thanksgiving 2015
If you've read my posts about Thanksgiving before, you know my basic premise is that we should be thankful everyday, not just this day. In fact, we could be thankful in every moment we are alive. Each moment that we are not, we are missing an ...

posted 9:01:46am Nov. 26, 2015 | read full post »

Meditating on Resistance
Earlier this season, just about the time when kids went back to school, I started noticing something. Roxy, a dog in my neighborhood would ...

posted 12:24:08pm Nov. 02, 2015 | read full post »

How to Live Well with Chronic Illness and Pain
I wrote a prepublication endorsement for Toni Bernhard’s latest book: How to Live Well With Chronic Illness and Pain:  As a psychotherapist treating chronic pain, I wish this book had been written years ago. This is an invaluable guide for ...

posted 11:38:57am Oct. 14, 2015 | read full post »

S is for Sangha
Mindfulness A to Z official release is here! Here is an excerpt from "S is for Sangha" The sangha is the community of people who follow the teachings of the Buddha, or more generically, anyone who engages in mindfulness meditation. When ...

posted 10:31:30am Sep. 22, 2015 | read full post »

E is for Effort
Mindfulness A to Z official release is tomorrow! Here is an excerpt from "E is for Effort" We may need to encourage ourselves gently in the direction of practice. Challenges arise. Daily life is complicated and busy; it may seem like we ...

posted 3:25:12pm Sep. 21, 2015 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.