Bright-Sided – How Positive Thinking is Undermining America

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.

(Source, HERE)

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I was always skeptical and often reacted quite strongly against the American obsession with positivity. The method of ‘appreciative inquiry’ that is used extensively in community development is in my estimation nothing less than a soft version of this delusional ideology.

That being the case, I find as perfectly justified Barbara Ehrenreich’s vitriolic critique of this system of thought.

You may understand more about her central argument in this book by watching the two parts of the interview below.





Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

2 thoughts on “Bright-Sided – How Positive Thinking is Undermining America”

  1. intr-o lume in care consumarismul este la raison d’être poti sa ii vinzi omului orice, si ma refer in primul rind la acest positiv thinking care a trecut frontierele rationalului. Ne putem permite totul doar sa vrem. Este un fel de infantilism de fapt pentru ca in psihologia copilului este gindul acesta ca e nelimitat si omul lumii de astazi, in special lumea Occidentala, cind zic lumea Occidentala ma refer la lumea de la Grecia incoace, spre vest, crede ca isi poate permite totul.


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