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.
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of numerous books, including "Dancing in the Streets" and "The" "New York Times" bestsellers "Nickel and Dimed" and "Bait and Switch." A frequent contributor to "Harper's" and "The Nation," she has also been a columnist at "The New York Times" and "Time" magazine.
In "Bright-sided," Barbara Ehrenreich reveals how the positive thinking movement, though seemingly harmless, has in fact deluded America and played a role in some of the most destructive events in recent U.S. history. Far from just a "healthy mindset," bright-siding is an epidemic of self-deception that has spread to all circles of American life, from preachers who celebrate the power of prayer, to doctors who promote optimism's healing abilities. It led officials to overlook clues of 9/11 and overestimate the strength of New Orleans' levees, and enabled the business world to make egregiously unsafe loans that caused the worst financial crisis since World War II. Ehrenreich exposes the consequences of the belief that positive thinking is the key to achieving success and prosperity--a notion which, at its most dangerous, prevents people from even considering the negative outcomes of major events or their own actions. "In this hard-hitting but honest appraisal, America's cultural skeptic Barbara Ehrenreich turns her focus on the muddled American phenomenon of positive thinking. She exposes the pseudoscience and pseudointellectual foundation of the positive-thinking movement for what it is: a house of cards. This is a mind-opening read."--Michael Shermer, author of "Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time" "We're always being told that looking on the bright side is good for us, but now we see that it's a great way to brush off poverty, disease, and unemployment, to rationalize an order where all the rewards go to those on top. The people who are sick or jobless--why, they just aren't thinking positively. They have no one to blame but themselves. Barbara Ehrenreich has put the menace of positive thinking under the microscope. Anyone who's ever been told to brighten up needs to read this book."--Thomas Frank, author of "The Wrecking Crew" and "What's the Matter with Kansas?" "Unless you keep on saying that you believe in fairie