When author Barbara Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer, she In her new book, Bright-Sided, Ehrenreich explores the negative. Barbara Ehrenreich thinks the prevalence of bogus optimism has weakened America, and she is willing to shoot fish in barrels to make that. Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America,” the new book by Barbara Ehrenreich, is based on.

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Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich. Americans are a “positive” people—cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: Brigbt more than a temperament, ehrenriech positive, we are told, is the key to success and prosperity. In this utterly original take on the American frame of mind, Barbara Ehrenreich traces ssided strange career of our brght outlook from its origins as a marginal nin Americans are a “positive” people—cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: In this utterly original take on the American frame of mind, Barbara Ehrenreich traces the strange career of our sunny outlook from its origins as a marginal nineteenth-century healing technique to its enshrinement as a dominant, almost mandatory, cultural attitude.

Evangelical mega-churches preach the good news that you only have to want something to get it, because God wants to “prosper” you. The medical profession prescribes positive thinking for its presumed health benefits. Academia has made room for new departments of “positive psychology” and the “science of happiness. This is Ehrenreich at her provocative best—poking holes in conventional wisdom and faux science, and ending with a call for existential brighy and courage.

Hardcoverpages. Published October 13th by Metropolitan Books first published To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Bright-Sidedplease sign up.

Lists with This Book. Oct 31, Katie rated it really liked it Recommends it for: Boy is it nice to see someone exposing Positive fucking Psychology, The Secretthe “prosperity gospel,” and all the rest of the American happytalk crap. I get so sick of it. I get so fucking sick of it. God, I got so sick of it at the Health NonProfit Call Center I worked at–all the smileys and balloons and cheery emails with little animated cartoons “Join me on the coverage train!

All of it designed to make you work harder and harder and quit bitching about it. One guy I knew got in trouble for telling a caller, someone terminal, that “Cancer sucks.

You can’t say cancer sucks? Currently, my old department is being eliminated and everyone laid off.

‘Bright-Sided’: When Happiness Doesn’t Help : NPR

They are trying to be positive and they are all going nuts. Ehrenreich starts out with her experience with breast cancer. Okay, so this is not the best time in my life to read this book, ’cause on Monday I am having a diagnostic mammogram. Thanks again, Health NonProfit! I’m blaming you for this too. I agree with Ehrenreich–please let me die any other way than clutching a teddy bear, surrounded by pink femininity. If this innocent little I don’t want to see any goddamn pink for the rest of my life.

But it’s worse than pink; she writes about women who are kicked out of breast cancer support groups when their cancer relapses; who are castigated in chatrooms for not being upbeat.

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About books where cancer is celebrated as life-affirming, life-giving, the best thing that could happen to you. Even those about to die, wasted, bald, in pain, too young, seem to be expected to be happy and grateful.

And the worst seems to be that if you do die, it is your own fault. This is the attitude not just of patients but of nurses and doctors too. This is the scariest part of the mammogram Monday. Oh God, please, please, anything but that Ehrenreich, who has a doctorate in cell biology, points out that even if positive thinking could strengthen the immune system, it would not help defeat most cancers, since most cancers have nothing to do with the immune system.

Actually, that’s just the introduction, the teaser, if you will. She gives a history of positive thinking in America, as a reaction to Calvinism–but not the oppostive of it, more an extension of it, one that still requires constant self-examination, discipline, and strictness. She exposes positive thinking as “a godawful lonely” way of living, since it calls for extreme self-involvement and requires the practitioner to cut herself off from “negative” people, even if they are family or friends.


She looks at “positive” Christianity, questioning as I and others do whether it really has anything to do with authentic Christianity, and at positive psychology–that’s where Seligman comes in.

Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

Evidently Seligman has lost faith in it a bit himself. She agrees with me about the barbaara of positive thinking as a tool for making corporate employees compliant and passive in a time of downsizing; it’s easier than using dogs and guns, after all.

She also blames positive thinking in part for the economic meltdown. The Fed believed in a permanently healthy market; the market believed in permanently high housing prices; the way to get out of the mess is for everybody to keep buying on credit.

One weekend in college, a bunch of us went on a day hike in the Adirondacks. We missed a turn and came to the end of the trail. Someone said, “Hey, we have a compass and we know the lodge is west of here–right over that ridge.

Let’s cut across country! Twenty intelligent people, all of whom had some orienteering experience, all of whom knew better, voted to leave the path at six o’clock on a September evening because, hey, britht got a compass, we’ll be fine, heck.

And after five hours harbara wandering in the pitch dark, we did find our way home and we were fine. I’d give this book 5 stars if Ehrenreich didn’t make brabara people she doesn’t like sound ugly or dumb.

Does that mean I’m being too nice? Or that I don’t like cheap shots? Okay, Joel Osteen’s short and wears a mullet and dumb suits. Martin Seligman is rude and controlling. I’ve always thought Seligman was a jerk, but do you have to rub my–or his–nose in it? I like how two of the Google ads that showed up when I selected this book were for books called “Manifest Anything” and “Attract Abundance.

View all 25 comments. Oct 20, Lena rated it really liked it Shelves: Barbara Ehrenreich was first exposed to the dark side eyrenreich the positive thinking movement when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Early into her cancer journey, she discovered that normal emotions such as anger and fear were being aggressively denied by those who believed that a positive attitude was crucial to survival. Cultural skeptic that she is, Ehernreich poured through the literature on the subject and found sifed, not only did science fail to support the hypothesis that a positive attitu Barbara Ehrenreich was first exposed to the dark side of the positive thinking movement when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cultural skeptic that she is, Ehernreich poured through the literature on the subject and found that, not only did science fail to support the hypothesis that a positive attitude contributes to healing cancer, but that those who failed to recover from cancer often experienced an especially cruel form of victim blaming at the hands of those who were convinced sidex it was their own faulty negative thinking that kept them sick.

This experience led Ehrenreich to explore in more depth the concept of positive thinking and how it is currently experienced in America today.

She traces its roots back to the New Thought movement of the 19th century, a spiritualist reaction against Calvanism that gave birth to, among other things, Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science.

Though nowhere near as depressing as Calvanism, these philosophies still heavily emphasized personal effort and striving, teaching that perfection was sixed if one worked hard enough and that problems in the physical body or external world were a reflection of work still needing to be done.

Though hungry salesman have often sought comfort in the promises of these sorts of speakers, Ehernreich explains how, over the last few decades, these kinds of ideas have deeply penetrated all levels of corporate culture. In a ehenreich titled “Motivating Business and The Business of Motivation,” Ehrenreich details how corporations turned to motivational speakers to pump up workforces demoralized by layoffs brbara convince both those let go and those remaining that their attitude, and not the relentless pursuit of corporate profit, was responsible for ehrenreih plight.


Though the recent phenomenon The Secret is a textbook example of how badly the idea of positive thinking can be misused in the service of personal gain, Ehrenreich also explores how certain Christian “prosperity” churches have gotten into the act, convincing their parishioners that God wants them to be rich and will help them get that way if they just show a little faith by giving money to the church.

Her comments on how many of the devout poor were convinced the predatory mortgages they were being offered a few years back were a gift from God were particularly poignant.

One might think that psychologists who extol the virtues of positive thinking would be on firmer ground than those who have a more openly exploitative agenda, but in an entertaining chapter in which Ehrenreich describes her futile attempt to pin down positive psych guru Martin Seligman, it becomes clear that the science of happiness is much murkier than it has been presented in the press.

While few would argue that being positive can feel good and many of us would prefer to be around “positive” people, how much we are actually able to control our reaction to circumstances and what effect that ultimately has in our lives is still significantly up for debate.

Those who would argue that there’s no harm in trying to be positive regardless of what the science says, however, would do well to read the chapter “How Positive Thinking Destroyed the Economy. As someone who was exposed early on to the fantasy that what you think can directly impact external reality, I am no stranger to the massive amount of internal stress caused by trying to control one’s thinking to be only positive.

I’ve spent the last few years deprogramming myself from these kinds of ideas and feel much happier now that I am no longer afraid of my own random thoughts and can experience the full range of emotions without the fear that doing so will somehow screw up my life. Americans are a uniquely positive people, more likely to believe fhrenreich will move up in life than people in other countries do. This optimism is in direct contradiction to the fact that we are actually less likely to improve our station than more socialist-minded Canadians and Europeans.

Yet the idea that anyone in America can succeed despite their background and that those who don’t have only themselves to blame is regularly used to deny our less fortunate citizens benefits that are already the norm in other Western Democracies. Erenreich’s discussion of this phenomenon, as well as how positive thinking is twisted to the service of repression by totalitarian regimes, was one of the most disturbing parts of the book.

Ehrenreich concludes her writing with a discussion of the importance of learning to realistically assess both potential positive and negative outcomes of our choices instead of just focusing solely on what we hope will happen. As she so thoughtfully points out, “We want our airplane pilots to anticipate failed engines sidex well as happy landings.

View all 35 comments. I always feel slightly guilty about my reaction to Barbara Ehrenreich’s writing. I do admire her – she is ideologically committed, writes with passion, is on what I consider the “correct” side of the various social issues that concern her. In the case of “Nickel and Dimed”, probably her best-known work, the niggling reservation was the artificiality of the whole endeavor I always feel slightly guilty about my reaction to Barbara Ehrenreich’s writing. In the case of “Nickel and Dimed”, probably her best-known work, the niggling reservation was the artificiality of the whole endeavor – the knowledge that the whole exercise of adopting the role of one of the “working poor” garbara undermined by the existing safety net Ehrenreich had available in her actual life.

Though it didn’t invalidate her message, it seemed to me enough of a distraction to beight the effectiveness of her presentation. Her recent book, “Bright-sided”, has much to recommend it: Ehrenreich’s willingness to question received wisdom and dig deeper for answers, her characteristically clear thinking, expressed in clear and forceful prose.