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311 of 321 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ehrenreich attacks "the cult of cheefulness"
Barbara Ehrenreich is not the kind of person you're likely to find brandishing a sign reading "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade"; you're more likely to find her picketing the vendors, demanding a more varied and tasty supply of fruit. If you're thinking of picking up any of her books, be prepared for Ehrenreich's typical trenchant and skeptical (but never cynical...
Published on October 21, 2009 by S. McGee

62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Positive Thinking, Or, Class-Conflict by Another Name
This is the first book I have read by Ehrenreich, though I have known of her for years and share many of her political proclivities. She is the sort of cultural critic that one will associate with Noam Chomsky or "Alternative Radio." Unfortunately, this book never really rises above its politics, and one cannot help but suspect that Ehrenreich is essentially preaching to...
Published on November 14, 2009 by Jon Morris

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311 of 321 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ehrenreich attacks "the cult of cheefulness", October 21, 2009
Barbara Ehrenreich is not the kind of person you're likely to find brandishing a sign reading "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade"; you're more likely to find her picketing the vendors, demanding a more varied and tasty supply of fruit. If you're thinking of picking up any of her books, be prepared for Ehrenreich's typical trenchant and skeptical (but never cynical attitude to be applied to whatever topic she's tackling. In this case, that is the whole universe of the phenomenon known as positive thinking, which she debunks with gusto and flair.

In the past, Ehrenreich has sometimes gone out to encounter her stories; in this case, the subject for her book came to her, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and found herself uncomfortably sharing her new world with people so eager to put a positive spin on a horrible phenomena that even women facing a terminal diagnosis were bullied into labeling themselves breast cancer "survivors", since 'victim' was simply too negative a word to be used. Dissenting from this perspective is a kind of treason, she writes, and apt to provoke the professionally-sunny tempered to suggest that she somehow earned the cancer by not being upbeat enough. More important than her personal observations and experiences, however, are the broader conclusions she draws from this experience. "The effect of all this positive thinking is to transform breast cancer into a rite of passage," she writes, "not an injustice or a tragedy to rail against but a normal marker in the life cycle, like menopause or grandmotherhood."

That's the important message of this book -- that by being relentlessly upbeat (to the point of becoming self-delusional) we miss out on what is authentic. Although neither a scientist or theologian, she is competent enough on both fronts to debunk the 'positive thinking' industry's fuzzy arguments based on quantum physics (she points out the gaping scientific flaws in the pseudo-scientific comments) and to point out how little the message of positive thinking 'pastor-preneurs' like Joel Osteen has to do with the uncomfortable core message of Christianity, which revolves around sacrifice and service to others, not wealth and feeling good about oneself. Indeed, the thread that runs throughout this book (although it's not as explicitly developed as it could have been) is that the positive thinking movement is essentially a very selfish one. Positive thinking is all about oneself: I am good at what I do, my worth will be recognized, I will receive all the wonderful things -- money, love and tangible goods -- that I desire; all with the subtext of a sense of entitlement. As Ehrenreich points out, the focus is never on others, or on broader society. "Other people are not there to be nurtured or to provide unwelcome reality checks. They are there only to nourish, praise, and affirm."

The problem with this blithe approach is that sometimes, ignoring reality can be dangerous. I became self-employed seven years ago, and know first-hand the importance of putting forward my most upbeat, can-do attitude when talking to potential employers, and the need not to be downcast when people say 'no'. On the other hand, simply being cheery, upbeat and entitled, isn't the answer, either; I need to be aware of the reasons people are saying no (it's not that I'm not upbeat enough; it may be that my skills aren't up to date or the proposal I presented didn't measure up). Ehrenreich tackles the real-world problems this attitude creates for all of us with her timely look at the impact of positive thinking as a contributor to the subprime mortgage debacle and the subsequent credit crunch; she hits the nail squarely on the head when she points out how the positive thinking-inspired sense of entitlement helped convince homebuyers or homeowners to take out mortgages that sober, realistic second thought should have told them they couldn't afford, while throughout the financial system, those providing the capital that fueled the credit bubble were equally susceptible to such magical thinking and focused on the short-term positives rather than the long-term risks.

While Ehrenreich's goal is to sound the alarm rather than provide counter-nostrums, she does urge us all, collectively, to step back and think about our lives and the society in which we live in realistic rather than idealistically selfish ways. She emphasizes the importance of critical thinking, which requires skepticism, and points out that most human advancement stems from that; at the same time, she makes a plea for us to step back from focusing on ourselves and what we want to our society and what it needs.

This is more uneven than some of Ehrenreich's books. At its best -- when she is making careful and well-reasoned points about the need to be realistic rather than draw smiley faces all the time -- this is an excellent book. (Do we really want airplane pilots who fail to plan for what might go wrong because that would be negative thinking? She doesn't mention Sully Sullenberger's name, but it's hard to escape the analogy.) She also points out the extent to which Americans delude themselves about their real position, and what that means, and introduces some data points likely to shock anyone willing to pay attention, such as the fact that while we prize the ideal of social mobility and assume (positive thinking at work again!) that it's there for us to grab if only we work hard enough at it, the French, the Scandinavians, the Germans and the Canadians are all more likely in fact to move upward from their socio-economic position at birth than we are. I would have been more impressed with the book, however, had Ehrenreich been able to distinguish between those who want to wear blinkers to screen out unpleasant realities and those who simply want a return to civility in public discourse. (After finishing this, I ran an errand and watched as someone bumped into another person on the sidewalk, and turned and verbally abused the person he had just nearly knocked over, screaming and shouting -- and this was a well-dressed individual.) Those who would like a civil 'civil society' may use some of the same language, but they're not advocating 'positive thinking' at all costs, just good manners.

In some cases, the arguments repeat those Ehrenreich has made in her previous books, notably the excellent Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, in which Ehrenreich spent many months living exactly the same lives as America's working poor, doing the same jobs they do and trying to make ends meet without s safety net. That stands as her tour de force for me, since she reported the lives led by people on the margins not as an outsider looking in, but as someone living that experience herself -- it's a five-star book that Ehrenreich draws on heavily for those parts of Bright-Sided that deal with job losses, employment laws, etc.

The various strands that make up this book -- the positive-thinking brand of Christianity, the wishful thinking in the subprime meltdown, etc. -- are none of them new or surprising to anyone who has been keeping up with essay-length articles in publications like the Atlantic, Harper's or The New York Times Magazine (among others). What Ehrenreich does here is pull those strands together and provide a framework for thinking about them as part of a trend that may be dangerous to our society in the long run. I'd recommend this to anyone as an intriguing read, although I strongly suspect that few of those she's hoping to reach will listen. They are more likely to criticize her for not thinking positively about the world -- if she did, I can almost hear them say, society would be so much better...
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392 of 416 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The dark side of positive thinking, October 13, 2009
With "Bright-Sided" Barbara Ehrenreich delivers the same sharp assessments she delivered in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, in this case a trenchant look into America's obsession with presenting a "positive" image at all times and at all costs. Spurred by her own reaction to a bout of breast cancer Ehrenreich came face-to-face with the near obsessive culture of positivity, which led to her questioning not only what purpose it serves, but how it came to exist. While Americans like to project a "positive" cheerful, optimistic and upbeat image we seldom reflect on why our culture insists upon this particular norm. Ehrenreich traces the origins of this "cult of optimism" from its origins in 19th Century American life up to the present prevalence of the "gospel of prosperity" in churches, "positive psychology" and the "science of happiness" in academia and in literature. Ehrenreich points out it is most pervasively rooted in business culture where the refusal to deal with negativity (potential and real) has resulted in a rash of negative outcomes, from the S&L crisis of the 1980s/1990s to the current mortgage led economic downturn. As with "Nickel and Dimed" Ehrenreich revels in not just mythbusting but in exploring corners of society seldom plumbed or contemplated. For Ehrenreich this lack of introspection and dealing with negativity in an appropriate manner has led us individually and as a society to "irrational exuberance" and now near disaster. Ehrenreich is at her best poking fun at the pseudo-science of positivity and poking holes in positivist theory.

Obviously Ehrenreich isn't for everyone and certain some people who insist on positivity in their lives will simply refuse to read such a potentially negative book. But Ehrenreich isn't a "negative Nelly" as some would fear; she's speaking truth-to-power and to a certain extent satirizing society. She seeks to question why we are so relentlessly positive, even when that positivity is unwarranted, and to get us to see what the true cost is when we are too accepting and nowhere near critical enough. It you set aside your preconceived notions about positivity and positivism you might just find this a richly rewarding book!
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264 of 283 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an important book, October 15, 2009
Ehrenreich makes the point (and it can't be made too often) that the Law of Attraction, as promulgated via such works of irrationalist pseudoscience as The Secret and the books of Esther and Jerry Hicks, has the down-side effect of making out-of-work, poor, sick, and otherwise "unlucky" people responsible for their own condition. She tells how Rhonda Byrne (The Secret) opined that tsunami victims had attracted their own misfortune. Ehrenreich also spells out how convenient this "philosophy" is to the greed heads that have lately been so busy raping America and the global economy. Don't revolt, don't complain, it's all your own fault.

She covers how Emerson and the Transcendentalists attempted to break free from the toxic effects of Calvinism on early American life, but how that attempt got sidetracked into New Thought (Phineas Quimby, Mary Baker Eddy, etc), with its increasingly laser-like focus on "prosperity" and get-rich-quick schemes. The scholarship that went into this intellectual/cultural history is impressive. Closer to present time, she unpacks how many evangelical mega-churches have leveraged this new, and very un-Christian, gospel in the style of huckster marketeers and predatory CEOs. But my favorite is the number she does on Martin Seligman and his "Positive Psychology" boondoggle. This isn't just a good book, it's an important one and much needed. I hope it will shape attitudes and change minds.
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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A needed book, October 23, 2009
A lot of folks either are so invested in their own personal universe where they get all the ice cream and cake they want or they heard what the book was about, read the dust-jacket and decided they knew what was in the book. This is an important book, along the same lines and for much the same reasons as Susan Jacoby's "The Age of American Unreason", Charles Pierce's "Idiot America" or Wendy Kaminer's "Sleeping with Extra-terrestials". What I found so wonderful about the book is the way she calls out the purveyor's of various misunderstood bastardizations of quantum theory for missing the whole point and for the hypocritical way they use and discard science as it is rhetorically convenient. What's more, she is spot on that this is a worldview that, no matter how fuzzy, soft, kind and gentle it tries to make itself out to be is ultimately selfish, harsh and, dare I say, callous.

I say this as someone who was a practitioner, in the 80's and very early 90's, of just this kind of thinking. I read Shakti Gawain and Starhawk. I clutched my crystals and thought to 'attract to myself' all the things that I thought I deserved or wanted. What made the difference, however, was not wishing the Universe to deliver but going out and *doing* something about my life. Ultimately, that deep encounter with reality made me a more compassionate person. What's more, although my introduction to QM was through New Age books, the more I read, the more intrigued I became and then when I actually started to read some *actual* material written by people who *actually* spent their adult lifetimes studying QM I found a theory that was, in reality, far more elegant and beautiful than the people who invoke it to give their fantasies a patina of scientific legitimacy.

If you have practiced 'The Secret' and wondered why, for instance, you still need your glasses, or have been bothered by the question, that none of these New Age gurus or boosters ever care to entertain, about what possible thing a little girl whose parents never came home from their jobs at the World Trade Center did to 'attract' being an orphan to herself, read this book. Even if you are deeply enmeshed in this philosophy--maybe, perhaps, particularly if you are enmeshed in it--read this book.

Her exposition on people avoiding the news was particularly sobering because I know a lot of folks who avoid the news and yet what little they know of it they feel qualified to comment upon--they hated George Bush but couldn't really tell you the first thing about what was wrong with his policies. Opposed both the war in Iraq and Afghanistan for no adequately explored reason.

Not a shiny, happy book but a very necessary book.
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62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Positive Thinking, Or, Class-Conflict by Another Name, November 14, 2009
Jon Morris (Binghamton, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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This is the first book I have read by Ehrenreich, though I have known of her for years and share many of her political proclivities. She is the sort of cultural critic that one will associate with Noam Chomsky or "Alternative Radio." Unfortunately, this book never really rises above its politics, and one cannot help but suspect that Ehrenreich is essentially preaching to the choir.

Ehrenreich's writing style is accessible and witty, and I found myself laughing aloud on several occasions, but this was because I tend to share her views, not because her arguments were particularly well constructed or the information enlightening. Yes: positive thinking is ubiquitous in America. Yes: it has had a deleterious effect on our economy and perhaps on our culture at large. But this much I knew before getting into the book; all the book does is confirm my suspicions, and this is perhaps what makes it suitable for fans, but not for a more general audience.

The most engaging chapter is the third, where Ehrenreich traces the development of positive thinking to the evolution of American religious beliefs. Would that there were more chapters like this! Instead, most of the book sticks to the standard leftist arguments: positive thinking is Conservative vs. Liberal, Religious vs. Secular---with some perfunctory exceptions granted. This is worth noting, of course, but I wish that the book had been more comprehensive.

For example, how can a book on positive thinking not mention the Stoic philosophers of antiquity whose influence was felt not only on Christianity but also upon the Founding Fathers? Stoicism was born of an epoch of crisis and doubt, so why not consider how the cultural context of the Stoics was similar to our own?

While the book is about the way in which Positive Thinking has undermined America in particular, wouldn't a chapter with a cross-cultural perspective highlight the fact? How are trends different in Europe or in Asia? What sets the tone in the European or Asian workplace? What is expected of an entry-level worker or a middle-manager there? It seems to me that a comparison of this sort would at least give the reader a better idea of the degree to which American culture has forsaken reality for the comforting illusion found in positive thinking.

Finally, why is there no chapter on the pernicious effect that positive thinking is having on education, where No Child Left Behind has come to mean that every student can be an Honors student -- all they have to do is wish hard enough or have a teacher that is positive enough to make it (magically) happen for them!? Positive thinking in education has come to mean that every composition gets a gold star, that every artwork will win a prize, and that every student will pass the standardized test with a 90 or above. Woe to the teacher or parent who (negatively) suspects otherwise.

The scourge of positive thinking has infected every facet of American culture but, sadly, Ehrenreich's book neglects or ignores much of this, reducing the phenomenon to yet another example of class conflict. Readers who are sympathetic to Ehrenreich's politics and liberal agenda will find the book an amusing confirmation of what they believe. But I fear that anyone who does not will find little to sway them here. For the more literary-minded I would suggest Eric G. Wilson's Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy; it, too, is a short book that challenges American optimism, but as a manifesto in praise of melancholy, it is (paradoxically) more narrowly focused and richer in ideas.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clicking your heels together will not get you back to Kansas!, October 19, 2009
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There may be evidence that Ehrenreich's thesis is true, i.e. there really are those out there who choose to believe in the veracity of the Law of Attraction; visualize a book review and it will manifest itself, no matter whether you've read the book or not. There are some problems with trusting in this "power,' however.

There is a clear distinction between having a positive outlook on life and belonging to, or buying into the "positive thinking movement" or "positive psychology" movement. This distinction is made by Ehrenreich on page 12 of the Introduction and is important because without knowing it, you will not understand her premise:

"I do not write this in a spirit of sourness or personal disappointment of any kind, nor do I have any romantic attachment to suffering as a source of insight or virtue. On the contrary, I would like to see more smiles, more laughter, ...more happiness...But, we cannot levitate ourselves into that blessed condition by wishing it..." Only twelve pages into the book and we have the distinction mentioned above elicited.

This book is about the cult of positive thinking, as it developed out of the New Thought movement in the 19th century made popular by Mary Eddy Baker (Christian Science). "Bright-sided" discusses all the ways this line of thinking has infiltrated many parts of American society, from prosperity theology to corporations to medicine. Against popular misconception this is not a book about cancer! Ehrenreich's fight with breast cancer is periphery to what her main contention is and that's the onslaught of vacuous platitudes and nostrums that are forced on the sufferer who, against all tides of peer pressure, does not see his or her cancer as a "gift" or as the best thing that ever happened to them, such as can be understood from this quote: "If I had to do it over, would I want breast cancer? Absolutely." (p. 28)

Is this a healthy attitude to take concerning a horrible condition that everybody would rather see eradicated from human experience forever? Does having an unrealistic, and some may say, perverse view of your condition really going to help cure it? The science says no, despite the vague and unsubstantiated claims made by the think-it-manifest-it crowd. Interestingly, Ehrenreich wonders why there is not a similar hyped movement for men and prostate cancer (p. 24).

This is just an example of the issues addressed in this book. I would not say this is Barbara Ehrenreich's best work to date, however, the slew of kneejerk, wholly and ironically negative reviews are unwarranted and mostly unsubstantiated. This is a book that gives some food for thought and deserves to be considered as an antidote to the plethora of feel good literature being currently published.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good premise, bad proof, August 30, 2010
I've been to a few motivational seminars (usually mandated by my employer) and I often have the experience that, while listening to the speaker, I find myself thinking "yes, yes, yes!", but as soon as I walk out the door and out of the grip of the contrived enthusiasm, I think "no, no, no!" Unfortunately, that was my experience with this book.

This book could be described as "far-reaching." Or it could be dscribed as a "random hodge-podge." Barbara Ehrenreich bounces from one subject to another like a rocket propelled superball.

The first chapter after the introduction is actually fairly well focused. It is about Ehrenreich's exposure to the "cult" of positive thinking through her experience with breast cancer. Ehrenreich weaves her personal experience in with scientific explanations (in laymen's terms) of the biology of cancer and the immune system and scientific studies of the efficacy (and lack thereof) of positive thinking in the treatment of cancer. So far, so good.

The next chapter is also reasonably well focused - perhaps too focused. Ehrenreich traces the development of positive thinking to a nineteenth century reaction to Calvinism. She credits rather obscure historical figures such as Mary Baker Eddy, Phineas Quimby and Williams James with revolutionizing American attitudes and introducing the "cult" of positive thinking. Ehrenreich pulls a few threads from this bit of history and a few thread from that, but it leaves her with a rather thin tapestry with many holes. Interestingly enough, Ehrenreich's own roots include both Calvinism and Christian Science.

But from there on, all bets are off. Ehrenreich bounces recklessly from business to religion to politics to current events to the global economy, touching briefly on examples, anecdotes, articles and research to "prove" her "point" (such point being, I believe, the ubiquity and the destructiveness of this "cult" of positive thinking). If you went to your local library, checked out a random sampling of 200 or so books, magazines and journals, found a paragraph or even a sentence from each with which you either agree or disagree, and assembled them, along with your own thoughts and musings, into some sort of loose order, you might come up with something loosely like the last half of "Bright Sided".

Furthermore, Ehrenreich cheapens what points she makes with personal attacks and sarcastic snipes. For instance, she describes in detal an interview (or attempted interview) with Martin Seligman of "learned helplessness" and "positive psychology" fame, making no attempt to disguise her own contempt. Seligman does not come off positively in this portrayal, but neither does Ehrenreich. Also, Ehrenreich devotes a full paragraph to the physical appearances - not flattering - of Joel and Victoria Osteen, which makes her ensuing rant about the Osteens' vapid devotion to the prosperity gospel seem like simply a personal vendetta.

The book could also do with a good editor or even copy editor. Several times Ehrenreich begins to lay out what looks to be points in a coherent argument. She begins with "First," ... but there is no "second." It leaves the reader hanging and groping for the threads of her argument.

My final criticism with the book is simply that I'm not convinced the problem is as dire as she paints. The America I see is not drowning in positivity. "The Road" was one of the most popular books in recent history, along with the Harry Potter series, each book of which gets progressively darker. Violent and otherwise dark movies sell as well, if not better, than ever. Irony and sarcasm are alive and well in venues from "The Onion" to children's cartoons. Every worker bee in corporate America gathers to gripe at the water cooler. Sure, the corporate world is trying to sell us a vision of happy while they lay off our co-workers and multiply our workloads, but I don't see America as a whole buying into it. Sure, some unscrupulous "religious" types are trying to profit by selling a bill of goods, but I don't think today's market for religious hucksterism is any larger or worse than in previous generations.

I was disappointed in "Bright Sided". I really wanted to enjoy it. I agree with the basic premise and I'm certainly no fan of the positive thinking/motivation industry. But I just don't think Ehrenreich pulls it off. There's little depth to what she says and little that she says is new. There are moderately interesting parts of the book, and I think she's headed in the right direction, but the book needs a lot more focus to get there. If you have time on your hands, it may be worth checking out of the library, but save your money.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I "positively" recommend this, October 15, 2009
"Bright Sided" is a short, intense, sometimes sarcastic, but enlightening read. Ehrenreich takes well-deserved aim at the entire edifice of the "positive thinking"-industrial complex in America, in all its forms (religious, economic, scientific, and so forth), as well as providing a nice background on how positive thinking developed in America and its historic antecedents.

The most personal chapter is her best, when she talks about her own breast cancer diagnosis, and the massive amount of pink artificial cheerfulness that was thrust upon her. Here we get a true sense of both the author's anger, as well as her wit and scientific training. This chapter could be a short book all by itself.

The only negatives are that each chapter sometimes reads like an independent essay, without much narrative to tie them together, and there seems to be a certain repetition of themes from her earlier books, especially the economic stuff. However, these are minor complaints - If you enjoy iconoclastic, sarcastic, but funny essays, and you are not afraid of a bit of, well, realistic thinking, I can "positively" recommend this book.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Positivism: The Anti-Depressant of The Masses. Side Effects May Include..., November 3, 2009
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An important, if not always nuanced, book.

I believe this book is significant, bringing to light the dark side of the cultish behaviors and expectations of the positivism movement. Being happy all the time is unnatural, but it can also be harmful if you get there by ignoring the needs of others or force a cheerful demeanor on people with good reason to be mad, or sad, or any number of other genuine human emotions. The author discusses this in detail - how it seems that some cancer support groups have no room for negativity or perhaps even people who aren't going to be survivors. How encouraging people not to watch the news, because it's depressing, is contradictory in a movement that says we can change anything through our thoughts, but it also takes away a chance to make the world legitimately better through action - you can't answer someone's cry for help if you have your fingers in your ears.

Movements like The Secret, no matter how much they candy-coat it, spends as much time blaming the victim as celebrating successes. It replaces "there but for the grace of God" with "if only that person had a better attitude." It allows people to at worst, walk away from suffering and, at best, give that person a lecture on positive thinking. Why help someone in concrete ways if they don't know The Secret? Even if you do help them, you do so from a place of superiority, because you manifested your good fortune through the Laws of Attraction and they clearly messed up.

Ehrenreich's book gets more interesting as it progressed. She traces the positivism movement to a reaction to Calvinism, which expected people to be miserable all the time. She makes a case for the positive thinking moment being a lot like, "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." She also discusses how the modern work environment is a much more dangerous place because of the culture of every person, even those not in sales, is a salesperson. Hiring an occasional speaker and pasting up affirmations around the work space are also cheap ways to placate people who are watching co-workers being laid-off and feeling the sting of budgetary cuts. There's a certain evil genius to firing someone for being too negative, telling them they have infinite possibilities, and having security escort them out.

Ms. Ehrenreich also makes a compelling argument for where and why the money went last autumn, and why common sense tells us that we look for common sense and dangers, and a society that punishes people for being downers is a society that might miss seeing the iceberg, or the fact that the iceberg is melting at a rapidly accelerated pace, for that matter.

However, and I am highly recommending this book, the author's approached isn't as nuanced as it could be -- at least not until the last few pages. She mentions occasionally not having anything against happiness, but I don't feel that her book truly made it clear the undeniable truth that there is a healthy positivism that's not rooted in self-deception, or enforced ignorance, or clannishness. While there is a time to feel all emotions, including the ones that the current trend would like to have banned from existence, life is genuinely better when at the appropriate times you embrace optimism, love, hope, and, yes, a positive outlook. It's what makes writers write - the belief they might get published, that there book might make a difference. I imagine this explains the author's ground-breaking book on the plight of minimum wage workers. The universe is too complex for be to reject out of hand that thoughts might be more powerful than we even know.

The type of positivism the writer rails against is harmful. In trying to pretend everything is always okay, in ignoring problems and warnings, in denying people grief, it denies real opportunities for compassion and for improvement. That's why it saddens me that the writer, while she touches on it, doesn't talk about the courage of doing something good for the world even with no Secret-like promise that you'll always succeed or be rewarded. There's bravery in finding genuine happiness while keeping your eyes wide-open and being willing to rush into battle rather than hiding behind a rock and only meditating.

I believe this book should be read, needs to be read, but I think a key part of the story was left out and that the baby was tossed out with the bathwater.

An interesting companion book to this might be The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Jeff Sharlet goes behind the scenes of a powerful Christian movement that tells people, particularly politicians, that God gave them their wealth and power and so they are chosen and above the rules. If you're a senator and a degeneraate, God's cool with it, because he made you a senator!
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189 of 230 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The book's target is really denial, not positive thinking., October 14, 2009
Ehrenreich rightfully criticizes the costly irrational exuberance that has wormed its way into American life. However, her focus on only positive forms of denial may have come from a hopeful quest for a snappy title rather than from evidence-based cultural analysis. She could as easily have addressed the rampant negativity-based denial we've seen on the news and close to home. In recent months we've seen cultural dominance of the Birthers, 2012 believers, and people who angrily deny that improvement on American health insurance is at all possible. These dark-sided deniers relentlessly undermine America as they create imaginary reality, deny hope, and prevent problem-solving and innovation. Denial is rampant, yes, but I'd be willing to bet that pessimistic forms of denial are the most common.

Ehrenreich's one-sided approach doesn't take account of the way denial itself typically works. Positive yet unrealistic attitudes usually come paired with strong negative attitudes toward responsibility (saving, planning, responding, observing, problem-solving, communicating). She seems to have censored out half of the picture and created a book based on a lopsided premise.

That said, I don't deny the importance of Ehrenreich's experiences with breast cancer. It's wrong that people may have told her that in order to heal she could have only one kind of feeling or approach. The whole range of emotions should be observed and felt, not denied.
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Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (Thorndike Nonfiction)
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