Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-sided is 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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
there is a difference between hope and what ehrenreich calls positive thinking. positive thinking, as she uses the term, is really more like self delusion or magical thinking. this book makes a very good case against that type of positive thinking.
while i find the subtitle a bit hyperbolic, i do think that this book makes an excellent case for the problems with the promotion of positive thinking as a cure for any and everything.
i would give it five stars, but i was not a huge fan of the narrator's voice.
Thank You Barbara Ehrenreich!
I am embracing my critical thinking skills all the more after listening to this book. Having lost my mother, father, stepfather and stepmother, among others, to cancer - thank god there is a voice in the wilderness still pointing out that all the pink ribbons and f*&^ing bears in the world are no replacement for cleaning up the environment, ending the sale of cigarettes, making industry clean up after itself, and any other harmful practice being eradicated. My father's death could have been prevented if the H bomb had not been tested and employed. My mother had a better chance had Hanford Nuclear Site never been built. Not to mention them being from an era where advertising boasted the health benefits of cigarettes. With this dearth of survivors I find all the pink b.s. an insult. And I have always hated pink.
Postivie thinking has not eradicated poverty, just people's guilty feelings about poverty. Ehrenreich's link between the thinking and its use to support unstustainable capitalism is important.
I don't think dismissing this book or its fabulous author as "negative" is a very thoughtful review - I say "Bravo!" to Ehrenreich for caring enough about our souls and minds to write this book. It is as good as "Nickel and Dimed". As urgent as well.
Kill me now
I read this and while I agree that there is an overabundance of positive messages in our society, especially focused towards diverting us from being negative towards everything, I feel like this book promotes the loss of all hope. I don't pretend to understand what cancer patients go through, and would not tell anyone that they should "keep thinking positively," because who really can in those situations, but this reads sometimes like abandon all hope, and that is not a healthy message. We should really use some pragmatism about our lives and not look for a silver lining in everthing, but also realize that not all silver linings are tarnished beyond repair.