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Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion…

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has… (2009)

by Barbara Ehrenreich

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Showing 1-5 of 105 (next | show all)
Ehrenreich takes a long, hard look at the history and growth of the "don't worry, be happy" movement that has impacted medicine, business, finance, religion... ( )
  CYGeeker | Sep 6, 2018 |
Bright-sided discusses the impact of the positive thinking movement on several areas of our lives.

Business (corporate)
Business (entrepreneurial)
Financial markets
Church / religion
Health and medicine
Consumer behavior

The author, Barbara Ehrenreich, is neither optimist nor pessimist but is a realist. She explains the origins of positive thinking as a reaction to Calvinism, while still maintaining the Calvinist belief of "self-examination." Beginning in the late 19th century, some philosophies and religions began to move towards the idea that regular, intentional positive thought (or prayer) breeds positive experiences.

Without repeating the entire book, today this idea has been enlarged it to the point it touches practically every aspect of our lives. "Wonderful," you may say. But as Ehrenreich explains with wry humor and clarity, positive thinking also places responsibility for everything that happens in the hands of those who believe.

If you have cancer, you must not have been positive enough.
If you don't meet your sales quota, you must not have visualized it.
If your business is going under, it must be because you didn't read the right passages from the right books out loud each morning.

Near the very end of the book, Ehrenreich also points out that dictators often use "relentless optimism" to control their citizenry. Any statements outside of this optimism are considered to be dissenting statements against the state and subject to punishment.

If you've ever invested money in a coach, book, audio program or DVD which promises to teach you how to achieve your dreams, you've most likely been bright-sided. You may have reached those goals, and if you didn't the presenter will remind you it's all your fault for not following the plan.

It's important to understand the manipulation that exists in these positive thinking methods, and that seems to be the author's primary goal. Yet, to be clear, she doesn't mean we should lump around all day feeling miserable. But that we cannot always think good things into existence. And if we don't, there may have been other factors at play.

I found this book incredibly eye-opening. For me, it validated feelings I have about these methods. The writing and research is organized in a readable yet journalistic way. If you are curious about this topic, I highly recommend this book! ( )
1 vote TheBibliophage | Mar 20, 2018 |
Optimism is one thing. Relentless optimism that provokes denial rather than hope is quite another. In this book, Barbara Ehrenreich explains how the concept of “positive thinking” came to have such a firm grip on the psyche of the United States and explores its surprising similarities to the grim Calvinist religion that it was set up to counter.

Being a naturally grumpy person, I was inclined to find much to agree with in this, and I did. It was particularly interesting to read about the religious aspects of the positive thinking movement, and how the constant fretting about sin has been replaced with constant fretting about negativity. The first chapter, about the relentless cloying positivity of cancer support groups, nearly made my head fall off with the nodding, as did the chapter about positive thinking cults in the workplace.

Although this book is nearly 10 years old, the chapters on the “prosperity gospel” and the insidious belief that success or failure rests entirely on individuals are still depressingly relevant, perhaps even more so now that inequality has grown even further since the book was first published. ( )
1 vote rabbitprincess | Dec 2, 2017 |
How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America
  jhawn | Jul 31, 2017 |
So I come from a home that mildly bought into the 'positive thinking' movement. My dad would have dismissed many of the banal 'believe it, become it' approaches of the self-help movement, but he did have Robert Schuller on his shelf and listened to business motivational tapes in the car. I remember one such tape talking about successful sales where a salesman said that before he went to make a sale he would repeat to himself, "I'm the best salesman in the world" and low and behold he would make the sale. I tried this myself and found by boosting my confidence about, for instance, playing piano, I could fool my piano teacher into thinking I practiced that week. But I never learned to play piano well.

Therein lies the rub. Ehrenreich contends that the fruits of positive thinking are vastly overstated. She begins the book talking about her breast cancer diagnosis and how much imperatives to 'be positive' were thrust on her, and how often they encouraged her to ignore the reality which is cancer. She then surveys the history of Positive Thinking (beginning in the New-Thought movement of the 19th Century) and its impact on the world of business, motivational speakers, theology, positive psychology and pretty much everything. In fact, Ehrenreich blames this positive thinking for the economic collapse in America in 2008 where businesses and investment firms had 'unwarranted optimism.'

There is much to commend this book and I am in essential agreement with many of her arguments. I do think sometimes the broadness of her attack on positive thinking means she lumps together strange bed-fellows in her critique. For example, her chapter 'God Wants you to Be Rich provides a stinging critique on Joyce Meyers and Joel Olsteen. Then it lumps in Bill Hybels and Rick Warren as softer proponents of positive theology. Perhaps, but there is a world of difference between the Purpose Driven-Life and Your Best Life Now (i'm not much of a fan of either by the way).

In a couple of places, I found myself wishing that Ehrenreich was more nuanced in her critique of positive thinking. Perhaps as someone trained as a scientist and a journalist, her bias is towards healthy skepticism. But does this mean Positive Thinking is always bad? When I was 12, Positive thinking helped me fool my piano teacher. Clearly there is some impact on performance, just not a substitute for hard work. ( )
  Jamichuk | May 22, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 105 (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:

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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:19 -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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