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Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This audio is a perfect antidote for anyone fed up with the power of positive thinking and all its attendant pink ribbons, smiley faces, and injunctions to have a nice day! Ehrenreich explores how medical, academic, and business gurus persuade the public that wishing, done in the right way, can make things happen. The section on the history of positive thinking that probes Calvinism and Max Weber is less original. Kate Reading hits all the right notes in conveying the author's humor, sarcasm, scientifically backed conclusions, and curmudgeonly insights. Her pace is brisk, and she captures the witty wonder of this book. A Metropolitan hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 10). (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
No critic completely dismissed Ehrenreich's critique of America's "happiness" culture. But reviewers' enthusiasm for her critique seemed to depend on their assessment of the book's moral urgency. Several critics felt that the message of Bright-Sided was essential to readers in the aftermath of last year's economic meltdown. But others felt that Ehrenreich's ideas, while relevant, had been better expressed by others. They also criticized the author for "cheap shots" and outdated research. For example, she criticizes the book Who Moved My Cheese?, which has long been superseded by other, even sillier titles. But many readers may react like Hanna Rosin, who wrote in the New York Times Book Review that even when she did not agree with Ehrenreich's arguments, she felt less guilty about not sharing in our smiley :-) culture. --This text refers to an alternate Audio CD edition.
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What's wrong with being sad and depressed when sick and suffering; horrified by the bombing of innocents; furious with inequality, racism, misogyny, ageism; outraged by corporate malfeasance and immunity? A little pessimism and skepticism is damn useful.
I suspect I'm in the minority when I say I don't believe having a positive, cheerful outlook will cure cancer. In fact, I don't think cancer, or any other illness, gives a fart if I'm chipper, whereas if I take it seriously and realistically, rather than being determinedly, insistently, optimistic as to the outcome, then although I may be bloody miserable, at least I'll be doing whatever it takes to improve my health. Oprah would probably disagree. She, and so many others in the Positive Thinking camp, would probably tell me I had brought the damn disease on myself due to negative thinking and that my negative thinking would be the death of me, literally.
Similarly, I believe no amount of 'visualizing' will 'manifest' my material desires. In other words, I won't get a Pulitzer by visualizing myself accepting it. I think the book THE SECRET is a dangerous fraud, although not a new one. Its bulls*** has been around since before Norman Vincent Peale.
And so on.
So, imagine my joy in reading a book, a well-researched, thoughtful one at that, which not only agrees with me (don't we all love being agreed with!), but one that also provides a history of where this idiotic belief system came from in the first place. And where did it come from? Ehrenreich tells us it comes from "New Thought" the 19th c. reaction to the more dour and punitive practices of Calvinism, which over time mutated into something just as useless and damaging. I didn't know that, but it makes perfect sense. These things are never new, they just slink around for years, shapeshifting as they go.
When she turns her gaze to the medical community, Ehrenreich knows what's she's talking about, having experienced cancer herself, and damn near choked to death on all the pink ribboned positivity everyone insisted she have, and the marketing of products like pink teddy bears and pink lipstick and pink everything that, she believes, serve more to infantilize women than empower them. Wouldn't you, she asks, rather have a skeptical, even pessimistic doctor who was going to explore ever treatment possible, do every test possible, rather than the positive-thinker who says, "oh, it's probably just a shadow on the x-ray. Meditate a bit. That'll do the trick."
She looks at the motivational gurus hawking their dubious wares; the corporations bullying their employees into faux positivity, to the detriment of both the employees and the bottom line; and the quacks claiming cheerfulness can improve the immune system and, as I said above, cure disease (research on the subject is laughably feeble and discounted). She takes us inside the mega-churches of abundance -- Joel Ornsteen and the ilk -- and doesn't hesitate to show us the little man behind the bedazzled curtain. She points a damning finger at how such 'Christian' churches are entirely concerned with materialism, in utter contradiction to the teachings of Christ. It reads like some bizarre heretical cult.
One of the most important sections for me had to do with the economic consequences of positive thinking, and how it contributed to the collapse of the Ponzi scheme the mortgage industry had become and the resultant economic meltdown. An eye-opener and must read.
Reading this wonderful book reminded me -- I met a man some years ago, a plumber and victim of the economic catastrophe, whose house was in foreclosure. He told me he wasn't worried because he was putting out great energy into the world and would soon -- he had no doubt -- be raking in cash as a motivational speaker to corporate executives. I suggested no amount of positive thinking would pay his back mortgage, and shouldn't he start working as a plumber again, a field in which he could make pretty good money, and renegotiate with his bank? He wouldn't be dissuaded and insisted he was plugged into the abundance of the universe. Well, okay, then. Of course he lost his house and, I'm sad to say, disappeared on down the road where he was sure he would find his pot of gold waiting.
The positive thinking camp would say he simply wasn't visualizing properly, that some wee dark pocket of negativity was holding him back from his best life. Ehrenreich would suggest his problem was the unreality inherent in ruthless optimism, because it kept his delusions intact and chasing after a sparkly carrot that not only would he never catch, but doesn't exist.
To be clear, Ehrenreich isn't extolling depressive, morbid crankiness and pessimism, just a dose of reality. Such reality might just help you get out of town before the pitchfork-waving mob arrives and get into the cellar before the tornado blows your roof off.
Ehrenreich has been thorough in her investigation of Positive Psychology, corporate motivational training, prosperous televangelists and the Positive Theology of megachurches. The preachers that she profiles certainly don't "preach Christ crucified." She and I would see differently as to the type and extent of the damage wrought by such religion. But I do admire her perceptivity and fairness. A less fair minded author could use the examples cited in the chapter, "God Wants You to Be Rich," as a jumping off point for a total mockery of all religious thought.
The second to last chapter, "How Positive Thinking Destroyed the Economy," seemed a bit thin in comparison to the preceding chapters, but that may be only because we are still reaping the rewards of a time when fiscal responsibility was steamrollered by happy thoughts and outright disregard for reality.
Ehrenreich's argument is that America's versions of positive thinking is a fraud that doesn't lead to happiness at all, but a grossly inflated form of false optimism and high self-esteem that doesn't correspond to reality. She does an excellent job of differentiating a healthy version of positive thinking, rooted in reality, with the dangerous version tied to self-delusions or the equally dangerous kind that is designed to manipulate and exploit others.
Her writing is taut, lapidary, and lucid. Highly recommended.
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