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Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is…
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Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Barbara Ehrenreich

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Member:rsummer
Title:Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America
Authors:Barbara Ehrenreich
Info:Picador (2010), Edition: 1, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich (2009)

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Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)
I have never won the lottery. And clearly, this is because I have never really wanted to win the lottery. And when my friend got cancer, it was because she wanted it, and really, it is a gift, no?
Barbara Ehrenreich goes on to describe the history of positive thinking, it's dangerous likeness to corporate America and "religious" cults, reveals that these three things are not at all separate from each other.
As a cancer biologist, I must say I like the first chapter, as Ehrenreich describes the cultish attachment to positive thinking among cancer patients and "survivors" and the health industry. I also highly enjoyed the chapters on Christian positive thinking (mega churches...wow! really! they bring in that much money!) and of course, positive psychology.
In the end, my only complaint would be that Ehrenreich was too kind to some of the people who abuse the masses for their own profit and wealth (though perhaps the masses deserve to be exploited, if we are so dumb and ignorant). Perhaps Ehrenreich managed to be more unbiased than I am, and that's a good thing.
I now understand why and how being a realist started to be equal to "being negative" or "having a negative attitude." If I could just change my negative attitude and focus my mind to think real hard of the NY lottery... Wait, I won!!!! (no "I'm your long lost cousin, please give me some money" requests, please!) ( )
1 vote bluepigeon | Dec 27, 2013 |
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, and flunking out of various support groups for failing to see it as a gift, Ehrenreich sets out to investigate the notion of positive thinking and it’s effects on American society. She looks at a view of illness where the disease is primarily there to learn from – and where it’s probably your own fault if you don’t get well. She looks at religion where, as a loooong reaction to puritanism, a version of God as a wish-granting genie is handing ut success to those who pray hard enough. She looks at psychology which is only interested in removing symptoms. She looks at a one-sided love affiar with particle physics, which spawns ”scientific” methods like ”The secret”. She attends tons of depressing self-help-esteem-boosting-get-rich-quick seminars. And, perhaps most unsettling, she looks at a management philosophy which focuses on gut feeling and motivation rather than actual skills, driving American economy towards collapse.

Ehrenreich is tart, unflinchingly bitter and often funny. Many head-shakes and rolling eyes occur at the astonishing examples she presents. She’s also, I think, refreshingly open about her own position. I might feel she’s underplaying the benefits (on a much smaller scale) of a positive outlook, but her outspoken grumpyness is rather refreshing. In the end though, I feel perhaps the book is a little too repetitive. The points it makes are a bit too few. And dspite clocking in on just over 200 pages, it feels a little too long. Still, a recommended read, potentially eye opening. ( )
1 vote GingerbreadMan | Nov 5, 2013 |
Read the reviews by Trevor (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/79766493) and Lena (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/75116738) They are better, but I couldn’t resist a few comments.

I didn’t expect to like this book. I wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about Nickle and Dimed, but this title was chosen for our reading club, so I gave it a whirl.

Ehrenreich uses her personal experience with breast cancer as a jumping off point.which led to her loathing for the pink-ribbon-cancer-is-a-blessing-and-will-make-you-stronger theories that surround the modern cancer patient. Ehrenreich who has a Ph.D. in cell physiology is well trained to look at much of the so-called evidence for the idea that being happy reduce the risk of cancer. She also notes that skeptics tend to be marginalized so the general public is bombarded by pseudo-science and quackery. She was especially troubled by the idea promoted in some quarters that cancer is a good thing, that it makes you appreciate life and helps you “evolve to a much higher level of humanity.” I suppose if all that were true perhaps we should be handing out Carter’s Little Cancer pills so we could all be more enlightened.

The destructive downside to this is that getting sick is all the patient’s fault. (I hear this constantly from my Republican friends as they decry health care. If people would only eat right, exercise, etc. everyone would be healthy.) If only we had been happier we would not have become sick. This kind of thinking just makes one more burden for the patient to bear. “Failure to think positively can weigh on the patient like a second disease.”

She demolishes the idea that we need to magnetize our minds since positive thoughts are like little magnets that attract positive energy. Thoughts do indeed generate tiny electromagnetic fields since they are the result of electrons firing around the brain, but it’s a pathetically weak one. As Michael Shermer noted in Scientific American the magnetic field registers at 10 to the -15 Tesla which is promptly swamped by the earth’s magnetic field of 10 to the minus 5, a difference of 10 billion to 1. “Our heads are not attracted to our refrigerators.”

Then there is the abuse of quantum physics by New Age thinkers. The wave particle duality of matter is translated into human beings being waves and vibrations. The uncertainty principle also comes in for abuse. “The mind is actually shaping the very thing that is perceived,” they say, so we are creating the entire universe with our minds. “Quantum flapdoodle,” said one physicist. These folks have abandoned science where evidence is examined and results are replicated in favor of revelation. The live in a false world where anyone can believe whatever they want.”

Having suffered through countless team-building sessions, I recognize their silliness and bemoan the enormous amounts of money being spent on them. They don’t always achieve their stated goals, however. I remember two in particular. One was in the early years of my career and there was no question the members of the group needed something to bring them together. After going through countless exercises,, e.g., face your supervisor and each of you tell what’s wrong with the other, - even I could have told them that wouldn’t work, over a couple of days, the leader, a well-known psychologist at the university, announced we were his first failure and that it was apparent our management team was dysfunctional. Well, daaah. So things continued happily as before until many of the problems were solved demographically, i.e. the old died off.

At another state-wide attempt at team building, about a hundred of us were chosen (most of us were directors) to attend a three-day workshop that I suppose was to get us all into a positive-thinking frame of mind. About the only thing good about it was the constantly replenished bowls of M&Ms on each table. We did things like take pictures of each other with Polaroids and then make collages, lots of cutting and pasting, kindergarten stuff. I think the leader got a lot of push back, because on the last day she tearfully told us how much trouble she was having. What a crock of shit. About the only positive thing to come out of the meetings I could tell was that an affair developed between two of the directors in a hot tub and they later got married.

At the college where I spent most of my career, about 25 years, and rose through the ranks of management, we really did quite well, and most of the issues seen as problems were not endemic to the institution. A larger problem that several of us tried to address was the recurring nature of initiatives. Three of us even made a presentation to the Board plotting each initiative and its outcome over three decades and demonstrating that each initiative (MBO, different budgeting schemes, diversity awareness, AQIP, etc., etc.) was good but never became institutionalized over the long haul. We struggled up the hill, almost reached the summit, but never quite made it over the top, and soon one initiative was replaced by another. For those of us who represented a lot of institutional memory, that could be demoralizing and made us perhaps less enthusiastic about the latest institutional fad.

One can only speculate on the desperation leaders must wallow in to try and solve what may be serious management issues with such trivia and balderdash. What’s even worse is to go on one of these management seminar retreats, have everyone do some serious thinking and develop proposals, and then have senior management ignore all the recommendations.

And let’s face it, to paraphrase Ehrenreich. If you can be motivated by a pretty girl and superficial speaker you are probably in a very easy job that will soon be done by a robot. But I shouldn’t be so negative and will try to be positive. The food was always great.

Good quote: "We go through life mis-hearing, and mis-seeing, and mis-understanding so that the stories we tell ourselves will add up." Janet Malcolm ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Positive thinking, far from being a support for happy and healthy life, is a delusional way of thinking. Journalist and biology Ph.D. Barbara Ehrenreich first came to this conclusion while fighting the deluge of joy and positivity among her fellow breast cancer patients. Her book examines the history of positive thinking as a doctrine of ever-similing America and its current manifestations in the corporate world, megachurches, positive psychology, and the 2008 financial meltdown.

The good parts of her book: Ehrenreich's long career as a journalist and past career as a scientist came together in this book. She is best known for her experience living poverty in [Nickled and Dimed], and she resurrects that when writing about how the motivational speaker market indirectly shames the poor and unemployed for simply not trying hard enough. Her background as a scientist strengthens her critique of positive psychology as a science and a pseudoscience.

I too feel some of her pain. I disdain self-help books and self-proclaimed gurus . So much of it seems like narcissism and magical thinking. Take [The Secret], which flew off the shelves yet was not worth the paper it was printed on. It seems like an easy target for ridicule, but if so, why did millions of Americans buy this book? Same goes for the bestsellers of plastic-smiled Joel Osteen. Ehrenreich does not mention this, but I suspect much of the mantra of positive thinking comes from a desire to avoid confronting the suffering of oneself or others. If a friend is feeling down, don't listen to their problems: just tell them to cheer up! Positive thinking can be quite hardass.

Despite this points, Ehrenreich's book fails to deliver. It was hard to draw the line between her anger and lucid logic. Joel Osteen is an easy target, but her attacks on Martin Seligman and positive psychology seemed too ad hominem and not well-balanced. My mom pointed out to me that if she were to get breast cancer, she would not want to wallow in negativity and anger as Ehrenreich seems to want to do. She (the author) has fallen into the trap of overstating her good points, so much that they become bad points.

This is too bad. Perhaps Ehrenreich should have written a book about "delusional thinking" rather than "positive thinking." Delusions of grandeur and perfection are the shadow, the evil twin, of positive thinking. These delusions were certainly one of the fuels of the 2008 meltdown. These delusions turn into the kind of positive thinking dogma and ideology - shun the nonbeliever! - that so frustrates this author. But these are not positive thinking per se. Ehrenreich's book would have been stronger had she made this point. ( )
4 vote JDHomrighausen | Jul 28, 2013 |
i read half of this in december and was really enjoying it but got sidetracked by the holidays--gonna get back to it soon!
  tvgrl | Jul 26, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)
Vindicated at last! All of us misanthropic misery guts, whingers and whiners, Seroxat-refuseniks, "walking nimbus clouds"; we grouches, saddos, naysayers, demoralisers and party-poopers – our day has dawned. Time to gather and strike for the right to snigger, sulk and be sceptical, for the whole purpose of the cult of positive thinking is the beatification of bullshit.
added by fannyprice | editThe Guardian, Lucy Ellman (Jan 9, 2010)
 
I must confess, I have waited my whole life for someone to write a book like “Bright-Sided”... Now, in Barbara Ehrenreich’s deeply satisfying book, I finally have a moral defense for my apparent scowl.
 
The myth-busting Barbara Ehrenreich takes on the ``cult of cheerfulness'' in her latest book and shortly after diving into the icy plunge pool of Chapter One readers will find themselves asking: Can I really make it all the way through a screed that starts off with a roundhouse punch at the positive thinking of cancer patients?

You can. And you should.
 
[Ehrenreich's] argument has the makings of a tight, incisive essay. And each chapter eventually delivers a succinct reiteration of the central point. But this short book is also padded with cheap shots, easy examples, research recycled from her earlier books and caustic reportorial stalking. Ms. Ehrenreich starts out with her ideas firmly in place, then goes out hunting for crass, benighted individuals whose perniciousness helps her accentuate the negative.
 
While Ehrenreich is entertaining and instructive as she has been in the past, "Bright-Sided" is probably her least persuasive book.
 
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To complainers everywhere:

Turn up the volume!
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805087494, Hardcover)

A sharp-witted knockdown of America’s love affair with positive thinking and an urgent call for a new commitment to realism

Americans are a “positive” people—cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: this is our reputation as well as our self-image. But more than a temperament, being 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 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.” Nowhere, though, has bright-siding taken firmer root than within the business community, where, as Ehrenreich shows, the refusal even to consider negative outcomes—like mortgage defaults—contributed directly to the current economic crisis. 

With the mythbusting powers for which she is acclaimed, Ehrenreich exposes the downside of America’s penchant for positive thinking: On a personal level, it leads to self-blame and a morbid preoccupation with stamping out “negative” thoughts. On a national level, it’s brought us an era of irrational optimism resulting in disaster. This is Ehrenreich at her provocative best—poking holes in conventional wisdom and faux science, and ending with a call for existential clarity and courage.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:57 -0400)

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A sharp-witted knockdown of America's love affair with positive thinking and an urgent call for a new commitment to realism, existential clarity and courage.

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