Oliver Burkeman's last column

Oliver Burkeman just published his last “This column will change your life” in the Guardian. It’s been one of my favorite columns since I stumbled across it five or six years ago. His book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, is also great.

The last column has some great advice:

  • “you needn’t berate yourself for failing to do it all, since doing it all is structurally impossible. The only viable solution is to make a shift: from a life spent trying not to neglect anything, to one spent proactively and consciously choosing what to neglect, in favour of what matters most.”
  • “If you’re prone to thinking you should be helping more, that’s probably a sign that you could afford to direct more energy to your idiosyncratic ambitions and enthusiasms.”
  • “When stumped by a life choice, choose ‘enlargement’ over happiness.”

I’ve long struggled with the first two, especially in my work. My ambitions of “helping” always outstrip my ability to execute them. I attribute much of that to having three generations of “Dr. Minor Gordon” before me: men who spent their lives helping others, and loved their work. That’s been a tough act to follow, but I’ve tried.

The third point is another story. Most of my life choices have been “enlargement” over “happiness”. But I don’t think of them as being in conflict. The things that make me happiest are the ones that broaden my horizons: traveling, meeting new people, reading, working on personal projects, getting to know myself and the people close to me better.