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

I’m only on chapter 3, but I don’t need to finish this book in order to recommend it. This is the first book I’ve ever read by Ehrenreich, but it won’t be the last. Great book! I’m not going to write a review, just provide some information I found online. – Dallas


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 is the key to getting success and prosperity. Or so we are told.


In this utterly original debunking, Barbara Ehrenreich confronts the false promises of positive thinking and shows its reach into every corner of American life, from Evangelical megachurches to the medical establishment, and, worst of all, to the business community, where the refusal to consider negative outcomes--like mortgage defaults--contributed directly to the current economic disaster. With the myth-busting powers for which she is acclaimed, Ehrenreich exposes the downside of positive thinking: personal self-blame and national denial. 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.



Hanna Rosin - The New York Times
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. All the background noise of America—motivational speakers, positive prayer, the new Journal of Happiness Studies—these are not the markers of happy, well-adjusted psyches uncorrupted by irony, as I have always been led to believe. Instead, Ehrenreich argues convincingly that they are the symptoms of a noxious virus infecting all corners of American life that goes by the name "positive thinking."


Tuttle, Kate - The Washington Post
Ehrenreich's examination of the history of positive thinking is a tour de force of well-tempered snark…We're not talking here about garden-variety hopefulness or genuine happiness, but rather the philosophy that individuals create—rather than encounter—their own circumstances. Crafted as a correction to Calvinism's soul-crushing pessimism, positive thinking, in Ehrenreich's view, has become a kind of national religion, an abettor to capitalism's crueler realities and an overcorrection every bit as anxiety-producing as the Puritans' Calvinism ever was.  


Official Site
Book link
Article on the book
Podcast Interview

Scan of ToC & Chapter 1 attached.






And as an added bonus:



Tags: Barbara Ehrenreich, false hope, positive thinking, positivity, prayer, scams, wishful thinking

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Replies to This Discussion

I may have posted this elsewhere on A|N, but it can't hurt to put it up again:



Taken from a lecture she gave regarding the topic, and rather entertaining as well as informative.

Yeah, I've seen that. I can't believe I forgot to include it. Thanks for taking the time to add it.
No charge, bro - glad to help!
Thanks Dallas. This is going on my prezzie list. She's damn good.

This book was good, as was Nickel and Dimed by her.


It explores the connection between dizzy, head-in-the-sand thinking (which includes "gut feelings" instead of analysis) and economic collapse. It also illustrates how new age spirituality has ironically led to a total obsession with material things (people are demanding that the "law of attraction" bring them the usual: weight loss, a boyfriend, a nice purse) and positive thinking has become denial thinking.


It's about time someone took on offensive, victim-blaming bullshit like the law of attraction.

Just finished it, read it in a day. Like one of the reviews says, a book I've been waiting for. Feel like it's a lucid expression of vague ideas that have been mumbling in the back of my head for years. Want to go out and hit people over the head with it.

Glad you liked it. Yeah, it is a quick read, though it took me more than a day. She's a great writer. Only I'm not all too interested in her other topics. Not a strong interest anyhow.

Since about the 1960s, there have been all sorts of books and messages to "think positively". It's partly our over-inflated notions of what we can do, and what will happen, surrounded with the underlying notion that God doesn't allow bad things to happen to good people.

In a news story I read on the BBC, Brain ‘rejects negative thoughts’ it describes how the brain functions differently between optimists and pessimists. It furthermore shows data correlating optimism to a higher life expectancy. It also states that pessimism or optimism are ingrained in a person - that it's not something they can just choose to change. If a pessimist tries to act like an optimist, it likely will not work, or might even work in reverse - the pessimist could lower his/her life expectancy by ignoring real dangers.

Some of the experiments and data offered seemed to show unrealistic optimism among the optimists, who, incidentally are a majority of the population. Pessimists tend to be realists – we observe what is really out there, live life on life’s own terms, and have a realistic set of expectations. When we are told by an authority we respect, or have data shown to us that shows that our data is faulty, we will adjust our expectations accordingly. Not so the optimists! If they are shown there is a lower probability of an adverse event, they act as if it’s a much lower probability or an insignificant probability - or when combined with a belief in a benevolent God, they become positive that adversity will not happen to them - and refuse to consider the possibility that it will, or make any plans for it.

The pessimists, by foreseeing adversity and making at least contingency plans probably have fewer really BAD things happen to them. At the same time, they are looked down upon for not having a "positive outlook" at all times. Pessimists tend to see things as they really are, whereas the TRUE optimists tend to be somewhat delusional.

Hmmm.... relentless promotion of optimism and the relentless promotion of faith - both of which are "delusional". Who is doing the promotion, except people already deluded into religion or optimism? Furthermore, do the people who become religious or optimistic via another's convincement really believe it, or are they just acting?


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