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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.

Published: Macmillan Publishers on
ISBN: 9781429942539
List price: $9.99
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The only thing left for America to manufacture is happiness.more
Quite honestly how upbeat of a review do you expect from a book that debunks positive thinking? Many points well taken with her usual engaging style, but don't read it all at once or it may be too depressing!more
Incisive and amusing, this book takes on the mania for positive thinking- and the dark side of same. Ehrenreich throws science, that proverbial bucket of icy water, over any number of claims regarding the efficacy of visualizing the life one wishes for. I laughed repeatedly at the snarky asides. There's nothing particularly revelatory here- it's a pop take on a pop phenomenon, and as such, well worth a read. Or in my case, a listen.more
If the day ever comes that I have to go out and get a real job I will go skating on the Seaway and seek the thin ice.more
A fascinating study in positive psychology and the Doctrine of Double Effect. Should be required reading for anyone who owns a self-help book.more
There's a certain element of Preaching to the Choir here--the people who pick this book up aren't likely to be the ones who believe that a smile can beat cancer and a motivational speaker is all that's standing between you and exceptional job performance.

But it's nice to have validation that a positive attitude isn't enough, and that yes, sometimes things do, objectively, suck, and it's okay to say that. Saying differently is delusional at best. (To quote The Princess Bride, "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.")

Recommended for all the grumpy misanthropes in my life. I love you guys.more
I could not get into this one. Maybe I'll try again some other time.more
This was fascinating. From the intensely personal opening, talking about breast cancer and the culture of mandatory optimism that surrounds it, to the fascinating historical examination of motivational speaking (including its roots in early-twentieth-century Spiritualism) and a blistering condemnation of the thinking behind the banking collapse, Ehrenreich held my interest. It is, perhaps appropriately, something of an angry book - it's hard to condemn wide-eyed optimism without appearing to be a bit of a grouch. This suits me fine. Having read far too many business-oriented motivational books as a child (they're what Dad would leave on the toilet tank) it was nice to hear from the other side in blunt terms.more
How did we become so relentlessly, blindly, positive? Surely we're not all naturally optimists. In this book Ehrenreich looks at how positive thinking has taken over America, and more importantly, shines a bright light on the downside of such blind optimism. Whether it be the medical establishment, business, or the economy, unfounded optimism has a hidden dark side that is ably explored in this book. Well written and fascinating, yet unsettling.more
I enjoyed this book as it takes issue with concept of positive thinking mantra. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, about having a positive attitude just as long as you do not expect an entitlement to the good life. As regards to the economic downturn starting in 2007-2008, there is a lot more at play here than overly optimistic people leading us to the financial brink. Pure greed and entitlement come to mind.more
Positive thinking, and the exhortation to conform to it, permeates our society. I can't count the number of times I was told to "be positive" and "think good things" and "picture the job you're going to have" during my stint of unemployment. And okay, maybe not dwelling in depression isn't a good idea (and the author states this, too), but sometimes you really need to focus on the problem instead of being all pie in the sky.The author does a great job of exploring different things that are fueling the positive thinking glut, from religion to corporate America, and shares her own experience with positive thinking after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She also details how positive thinking, in many cases, is actually harmful to individuals and society. It's a great book for those of us who are sick and tired of being chided, nagged, and generally hit over the head with a positive thinking stick.more
Positive thinking can’t be negative, right? Wrong! And Barbara Ehrenreich gives curmudgeons of the world license to be as negative (read: realistic) as we like. I’m tired of all this positive thinking … call me "negative," but I’m sick of hearing about the “law of attraction,” and the other crap that’s out there today. To almost quote the late George Carlin: “It’s b--- s--- and it’s bad for you!” And if all that “positive thinking” doesn’t make the believers healthy, wealthy and famous (or whatever it is they desire), according to the positive thinking gurus, it’s because they haven’t believed hard enough, they haven’t worked their program, they haven’t banished all the negative thoughts. “Life coaches?” Give me a break! Sometimes bad things happen and there’s no need to go blaming yourself for it. I have a friend and fellow non-believer in Barbara Ehrenreich. Phew! That felt good!more
Super well-researched, Ehrenreich was preaching to the choir with this one: as I write this review, I am 6 months into my latest stretch of unemployment. I have a chronic problem with unemployment, and if I bothered to do the math, I would probably discover that I have been unemployed more often than employed since scoring that graduate degree almost six years ago.This unemployment thing means that I am faced with what seems like a constant barrage of useless advice: "STAY POSITIVE!" "See this unemployment thing as a LEARNING opportunity!" Ehrenreich is fantastic at breaking down and explaining the science behind cancer, gives an excellent synopsis of how religion and various 20th century pop culture movements have influenced this bizarre cult of positivity. I highly recommend this to anyone who takes umbrage with the endless chirping of STAY POSITIVE.more
I think this is an important book, and one I'd like many to read. I do not completely share Ehrenreich's opinions--I am very into New Age spirituality of various types. But in this book she has really nailed a problem that has been bothering me for many years--how looking only on the bright side harms us all as a nation. When I was in my twenties I fell hook line and sinker for New Age ideologies like just be positive and everything will turn out great, let your money flow, be abundant etc...I spent huge sums of money on crystals, self help books, readings etc. with the naive idea that the money would just magically keep on coming in. This instead of logically taking courses that might further my career, etc. Anyway, Ehrenreich does a masterful job in this book of detailing the roots of positive thinking in America and the effect it has had on our political situation and economy.more
As somebody trained in skepticism required for science, I've always been scornful of the suggestion that 'positive thinking' is all that is needed to succeed, but I have heard enough people say that it is necessary to believe in its importance. Now I may doubt that too - the importance of realism or even worry over possible failures are quite clearly laid out in the final chapter of this book. Ehrenreich opens strongly with her experience as a woman afflicted with breast cancer. I think she would approve of using those words, rather than calling her a 'survivor', though thankfully she did live through the disease and the treatment. She expresses clearly what I have suspected but not been able to articulate, that there is a 'breast cancer industry' whose peddling of pink ribbons and teddy bears may do as much harm as good. And certainly is not much interested in true prevention. "I love boobies" bracelets are what we see in the news today, rather than outrage over the disease and the available treatments. "What causes it and why is it so common, especially in industrialized societies" Ehrenreich asks, but for answer is told to look at breast cancer as a gift, and put her energies towards peace, if not happiness. There is a shift from this personal story to a bit of a history of the positive thinking movement and interviews of positive thinking promoters in business and general society. At times I got the feeling common in non-fiction of this type -- one that has a message that can be summed up in a sub-title -- that she was going on a bit in the interest of being pointed. I think anybody who has bought into the positive-thinking myth will find her too strident ("partisan") to be convincing, but if you've already got doubts, like I did, you'll find the book provides lots of good stories and evidence of how far wrong the world has gone. Highly recommended.more
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author discusses how our culture has branded any sad, critical, angry or even skeptical reaction, no matter how justified, as being “negative” and demands at least outward demonstration of optimism and calm, if not outright enthusiasm at the new supposed “opportunities,” from everybody, from overworked employees to the unemployed and cancer patients, forcing people to fight their natural moods when they need energy for more important things. She further shows how relevant data gets misrepresented by the self-help industry, now joined by a growing number of churches and even the American Psychological Association, to show upbeat attitude’s positive effects on health and success in life. The author also describes how people get deluded by motivational speakers, pastors and best-selling how-to-improve-your-life books into spending beyond their means and making risky investments, by being told that visualizing what we want will bring it to us because the universe operates like a “mail-in department store.” Nor does any of this help make us actually happier, even before the real world comes knocking, since there’s a huge difference between the natural happiness and optimism that are based on reality and the forced cheerfulness that one must constantly fight to maintain in the face of unhappy circumstances. Reading this book, I thought about Americans making lying the worst deadly sin and yet turning “Hello! How are you?” into a standard greeting. The author traces the roots of positive thinking, originally called “new thinking,” back to the early 19th century when it was born as a reaction against the severe Calvinist religion of the day. New thinking claimed that god was “an ubiquitous, all-powerful spirit,” a “universal mind,” of which humanity was a part, and in that case “how could there be such a thing as sin”? “The trick, for humans, was to access the boundless power of Spirit and thus exercise control over the physical world.” The final irony, as the author points out, is that what once was a liberating, if equally delusional, cult has eventually become as oppressive as the extreme Puritanism it had sought to replace. Inner struggle against natural negative thoughts replaced the inner struggle against natural impious thoughts, insistent advice to get rid of negative people in our lives and in the workplace sound very much like the dictates to reject and ostracize the sinners, and the demand to be cheerful no matter what, or fake it if you can’t be, has permeated our society to almost the same degree as the demand to believe in god and to be pious used to be. In both cases, it was supposed to be for the individual’s own good, old-time religion promising paradise in afterlife or at least a waiver from eternal torture, while new system of belief promises everything you can dream up in this life. And both put full responsibility for one’s circumstances on the individual – if bad things happen to you and you can’t turn them around, something’s wrong with *you*, you didn’t believe, pray, visualize, banish wrong thoughts hard enough. As Barbara Ehrenreich concludes, both ideologies are short on empathy.The author also claims that positive thinking is at least partly responsible for the recent irresponsible banking practices, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and failure to react to warnings which resulted in 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Personally, I think greed or general carelessness were more at fault here, with the insistence on positive thinking used more as a pretext to ignore or get rid of critics. She also maintains that findings of a link between positive emotions and the immune system are mixed. This I found rather strange because the link between stress and the immune system is well-documented, and so the absence of stress should be beneficial to the immune system. Perhaps, she hasn’t distinguished sufficiently between natural positive emotions which arise in reaction to positive circumstances and the forced optimism that one has to fight to maintain in the face of a negative situation (although she’s right, of course, in pointing out that the immune system fights foreign cells, like bacteria, and not one’s own cells, even if they become cancerous). So on the whole, I think her book is the strongest when she talks about contemporary American culture in general and positive thinking’s pernicious effect on it. After all, it’s the people who can face the reality as it is and get sufficiently upset over its negative aspects who change the world to the better, and not those who tell themselves that everything’s really fine or that they can do anything if they have a can-do attitude. I’ve found this is a refreshing and long-overdue book.more
Ehrenreich deals a much needed left hook to the cult of cheerfulness and positive thinking that has tyrannized all of us for several decades. Diagnosed with cancer and not naturally a teddy bear and pink ribbon sort, she finds herself swimming in a fetid cesspool of good cheer and proclamations of the positive difference that breast cancer had made in the life of numerous women. Naturally skeptical, she decides to examine the entire positive thinking juggernaut, and she does it in a witty, sometimes sarcastic, way that sits well with those of us who are tired of having cheerful jammed down our throats.more
A very interesting book although a little unfocused in parts. I always thought positive thinking seemed to have a bit of religious fervour associated with it in some quarters and it seems I might have been right. The book isn't saying we shouldn't be positive but it does say we should be realistic and if things are bad it should be OK to say they are bad. While this sounds like common sense the author argues that the industry of positive thinking/positive psychology/abundance theologies and "pastorpreneurs" (love that phrase!!) has made an impact on all of us.more
Ehrenreich gives us an informative and engrossing account of the cult of positive thinking that pervades American culture and global business. It is a stunning expose of a pernicious problem. What could be harmful about positive thinking? you might ask. As the author shows, it blinds us to the often troubling challenges of the real world, causing those deepest in its grasp to avoid confronting real problems, and squelching debate. Ehrenreich shows that positive thinking was an important factor in the current financial crisis, and that enforced happiness has a real potential to make people miserable.more
I liked the idea of this book much more than the execution. As someone with a healthy sense of cycnicism, and who is constantly being told "Smile, it's not that bad!", the title of this one did, in fact, make me smile. And having read "Nickel and Dimed", as well as some of Ehrenreich's essays, I figured this would be a definite winner. Unfortunately, I have to agree with other reviewers, maybe the subject matter for this one was a little too personal for her.more
Having read Ehrenreich's books on the disappearance of the middle class (Bait and Switch) and the horrendous conditions for the lower classes (Nickel and Dimed), I thought I'd check this one out, too, partially because I had someone at work tell me I really shouldn't post "negative" things on my Facebook because "future employers might see it and think you hate your students" (which I found ridiculous because, for one thing, that's my space and I should be free to rant there, and for another, I have it locked down on the tightest privacy settings possible). I figured she might be preaching to the choir--I already feel that a bit of cynicism might be healthy and realism is much healthier than the belief that nothing can ever go wrong as long as you're a Pollyanna--and I was mostly right. I did, however, learn quite a bit from the book, though overall it wasn't written quite as well as I've come to expect from Ehrenreich.I suspect the problem is that Ehrenreich took the subject much more personally than she's taken the others. The first chapter chronicles her battle with breast cancer and other patients' (and the doctors, and support staff, and society) insistence that positive thinking could help cure the disease, and exerting tremendous amounts of peer pressure to squash anger and other "negative" emotions related to battling a major disease. After this, she tackles the motivation industry and its pseudo-physics, American Christianity's adoption of positive thinking to turn god into an ATM, the APA's shaky research when it comes to positive thinking, and the ways in which this epidemic of positivity has contributed (and continues to contribute) to the current economic issues in America.The first halves, at least, of each chapter were well-written and got the point across, while the rest of each chapter tended to single out one or two guilty parties and belabor the point that what they were doing was fraudulent, harmful, and annoying. I suspect this book could easily have been half as long as it is without losing a whole lot of substance or content. However, perhaps for someone who didn't already agree with her, the parts that I found repetitious and tedious would be necessary to cement her argument and convince the skeptic.more
A thorough and relentless examination of the dark side of positive thinking, this book warns of the weakness of relying only on the positive view of life and its challenges. The author points our how the pervasiveness of this positive thought style in so many areas of contemporary life makes it difficult to look at problems and issues in life with a more realist view that would help us to work on overcoming difficulties.more
Smile or Die is Ehrenreich's analysis of the positive thinking industry in America, inspired by the attitudes she encountered while she underwent treatment for breast cancer. When looking at internet support groups and the like and talking to others with the disease she found that there was an overwhelming belief in that a positive mental attitude is the only way that the cancer can be beaten - smile or die.From there Ehrenreich looks at the huge money-spinning industry that has grown up around positive thinking, the reason this has developed (a reaction to Calvinism), the links to evangelical Christianity and how corporations have bought into the positive thinking mantras. She feels that the recent economic crisis came about because of collective positive thinking that did not allow anyone to point out the dangers of the misplaced optimism that fuelled, for example, the sub prime mortgage market.If ever a book was written to reinforce the prejudices about America that some over this side of the pond have, this is it. Americans come off as really quite stupid and unable to think for themselves. And to be honest it feels like Ehrenreich feels that way herself for a lot of the time!Seriously though, it was an interesting read and really quite scary at points.As always with these kind of books I question who Ehrenreich thinks her audience is. People involved in the positive-thinking industry? Probably not. Ordinary people who might get caught up in, and lose their livelihoods as a result of, the positive thinking ethos? Maybe. American left-wingers and smug Europeans who laugh at the naive optimism of those over the pond? Most definitely!more
An interesting read on how too much "Positive Thinking" can interfere with the real world, In particular, the medical world and the treatment of cancer.more
As a "glass half empty" kind of gal, I really felt a bond with Ehrenreich and her message that positive thinking will be the ruination of us. The first chapter, about cancer, especially hit home. The phrase "tyranny of positive thinking," has stuck with me, because isn't THAT the truth? If you should be so unlucky as to die from cancer in this day and age, most people assume that the victim did something wrong because if you are positive enough you will SURELY conquer it--mind over matter! What a load of BS. Anyway, proponents of positive thinking will hate this, the realists of the world will see all the places where positive thinking has insinuated itself and be shocked at its spread throughout the modern American psyche.more
very very interesting.more
the first chapter was especially great . She talked about her experience getting breast cancer and the whole pink ribbon look on the brightside way of thinking that came with it.more
Everyone who read and preaches The Secret and everyone in the Irish Government and senior Civil Service should be forcefed this book. Barbara Ehrenreich got breast cancer and got annoyed at the constant message of not letting it get you down (I had cancer too, I had a Doctor tell me that because I was a bit down I should add to my daily cocktail of minimum 8 and maximum 18 pills with antidepressants because it was important to be positive about it all - feck that, cancer is not a reason to be smiley happy and postponing dealing with the emotions it dredged up wasn't going to make them any easier to deal with and might have postponed my return to work).She looks at the platitudes and pink ribbons, The Secret, and the faux science that has pervaded corporate culture.By the Way, if you have staff, keep them happy by ensuring that they have time for themselves, their families, enough money to keep them above the poverty line and stopping sending them on bull**** courses that mean that they have to work twice as hard when they get back to their job, and starting to value them for their input rather than regarding them as numbers.Angry, me? Maybe more of us should be.more
Read all 64 reviews

Reviews

The only thing left for America to manufacture is happiness.more
Quite honestly how upbeat of a review do you expect from a book that debunks positive thinking? Many points well taken with her usual engaging style, but don't read it all at once or it may be too depressing!more
Incisive and amusing, this book takes on the mania for positive thinking- and the dark side of same. Ehrenreich throws science, that proverbial bucket of icy water, over any number of claims regarding the efficacy of visualizing the life one wishes for. I laughed repeatedly at the snarky asides. There's nothing particularly revelatory here- it's a pop take on a pop phenomenon, and as such, well worth a read. Or in my case, a listen.more
If the day ever comes that I have to go out and get a real job I will go skating on the Seaway and seek the thin ice.more
A fascinating study in positive psychology and the Doctrine of Double Effect. Should be required reading for anyone who owns a self-help book.more
There's a certain element of Preaching to the Choir here--the people who pick this book up aren't likely to be the ones who believe that a smile can beat cancer and a motivational speaker is all that's standing between you and exceptional job performance.

But it's nice to have validation that a positive attitude isn't enough, and that yes, sometimes things do, objectively, suck, and it's okay to say that. Saying differently is delusional at best. (To quote The Princess Bride, "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.")

Recommended for all the grumpy misanthropes in my life. I love you guys.more
I could not get into this one. Maybe I'll try again some other time.more
This was fascinating. From the intensely personal opening, talking about breast cancer and the culture of mandatory optimism that surrounds it, to the fascinating historical examination of motivational speaking (including its roots in early-twentieth-century Spiritualism) and a blistering condemnation of the thinking behind the banking collapse, Ehrenreich held my interest. It is, perhaps appropriately, something of an angry book - it's hard to condemn wide-eyed optimism without appearing to be a bit of a grouch. This suits me fine. Having read far too many business-oriented motivational books as a child (they're what Dad would leave on the toilet tank) it was nice to hear from the other side in blunt terms.more
How did we become so relentlessly, blindly, positive? Surely we're not all naturally optimists. In this book Ehrenreich looks at how positive thinking has taken over America, and more importantly, shines a bright light on the downside of such blind optimism. Whether it be the medical establishment, business, or the economy, unfounded optimism has a hidden dark side that is ably explored in this book. Well written and fascinating, yet unsettling.more
I enjoyed this book as it takes issue with concept of positive thinking mantra. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, about having a positive attitude just as long as you do not expect an entitlement to the good life. As regards to the economic downturn starting in 2007-2008, there is a lot more at play here than overly optimistic people leading us to the financial brink. Pure greed and entitlement come to mind.more
Positive thinking, and the exhortation to conform to it, permeates our society. I can't count the number of times I was told to "be positive" and "think good things" and "picture the job you're going to have" during my stint of unemployment. And okay, maybe not dwelling in depression isn't a good idea (and the author states this, too), but sometimes you really need to focus on the problem instead of being all pie in the sky.The author does a great job of exploring different things that are fueling the positive thinking glut, from religion to corporate America, and shares her own experience with positive thinking after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She also details how positive thinking, in many cases, is actually harmful to individuals and society. It's a great book for those of us who are sick and tired of being chided, nagged, and generally hit over the head with a positive thinking stick.more
Positive thinking can’t be negative, right? Wrong! And Barbara Ehrenreich gives curmudgeons of the world license to be as negative (read: realistic) as we like. I’m tired of all this positive thinking … call me "negative," but I’m sick of hearing about the “law of attraction,” and the other crap that’s out there today. To almost quote the late George Carlin: “It’s b--- s--- and it’s bad for you!” And if all that “positive thinking” doesn’t make the believers healthy, wealthy and famous (or whatever it is they desire), according to the positive thinking gurus, it’s because they haven’t believed hard enough, they haven’t worked their program, they haven’t banished all the negative thoughts. “Life coaches?” Give me a break! Sometimes bad things happen and there’s no need to go blaming yourself for it. I have a friend and fellow non-believer in Barbara Ehrenreich. Phew! That felt good!more
Super well-researched, Ehrenreich was preaching to the choir with this one: as I write this review, I am 6 months into my latest stretch of unemployment. I have a chronic problem with unemployment, and if I bothered to do the math, I would probably discover that I have been unemployed more often than employed since scoring that graduate degree almost six years ago.This unemployment thing means that I am faced with what seems like a constant barrage of useless advice: "STAY POSITIVE!" "See this unemployment thing as a LEARNING opportunity!" Ehrenreich is fantastic at breaking down and explaining the science behind cancer, gives an excellent synopsis of how religion and various 20th century pop culture movements have influenced this bizarre cult of positivity. I highly recommend this to anyone who takes umbrage with the endless chirping of STAY POSITIVE.more
I think this is an important book, and one I'd like many to read. I do not completely share Ehrenreich's opinions--I am very into New Age spirituality of various types. But in this book she has really nailed a problem that has been bothering me for many years--how looking only on the bright side harms us all as a nation. When I was in my twenties I fell hook line and sinker for New Age ideologies like just be positive and everything will turn out great, let your money flow, be abundant etc...I spent huge sums of money on crystals, self help books, readings etc. with the naive idea that the money would just magically keep on coming in. This instead of logically taking courses that might further my career, etc. Anyway, Ehrenreich does a masterful job in this book of detailing the roots of positive thinking in America and the effect it has had on our political situation and economy.more
As somebody trained in skepticism required for science, I've always been scornful of the suggestion that 'positive thinking' is all that is needed to succeed, but I have heard enough people say that it is necessary to believe in its importance. Now I may doubt that too - the importance of realism or even worry over possible failures are quite clearly laid out in the final chapter of this book. Ehrenreich opens strongly with her experience as a woman afflicted with breast cancer. I think she would approve of using those words, rather than calling her a 'survivor', though thankfully she did live through the disease and the treatment. She expresses clearly what I have suspected but not been able to articulate, that there is a 'breast cancer industry' whose peddling of pink ribbons and teddy bears may do as much harm as good. And certainly is not much interested in true prevention. "I love boobies" bracelets are what we see in the news today, rather than outrage over the disease and the available treatments. "What causes it and why is it so common, especially in industrialized societies" Ehrenreich asks, but for answer is told to look at breast cancer as a gift, and put her energies towards peace, if not happiness. There is a shift from this personal story to a bit of a history of the positive thinking movement and interviews of positive thinking promoters in business and general society. At times I got the feeling common in non-fiction of this type -- one that has a message that can be summed up in a sub-title -- that she was going on a bit in the interest of being pointed. I think anybody who has bought into the positive-thinking myth will find her too strident ("partisan") to be convincing, but if you've already got doubts, like I did, you'll find the book provides lots of good stories and evidence of how far wrong the world has gone. Highly recommended.more
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author discusses how our culture has branded any sad, critical, angry or even skeptical reaction, no matter how justified, as being “negative” and demands at least outward demonstration of optimism and calm, if not outright enthusiasm at the new supposed “opportunities,” from everybody, from overworked employees to the unemployed and cancer patients, forcing people to fight their natural moods when they need energy for more important things. She further shows how relevant data gets misrepresented by the self-help industry, now joined by a growing number of churches and even the American Psychological Association, to show upbeat attitude’s positive effects on health and success in life. The author also describes how people get deluded by motivational speakers, pastors and best-selling how-to-improve-your-life books into spending beyond their means and making risky investments, by being told that visualizing what we want will bring it to us because the universe operates like a “mail-in department store.” Nor does any of this help make us actually happier, even before the real world comes knocking, since there’s a huge difference between the natural happiness and optimism that are based on reality and the forced cheerfulness that one must constantly fight to maintain in the face of unhappy circumstances. Reading this book, I thought about Americans making lying the worst deadly sin and yet turning “Hello! How are you?” into a standard greeting. The author traces the roots of positive thinking, originally called “new thinking,” back to the early 19th century when it was born as a reaction against the severe Calvinist religion of the day. New thinking claimed that god was “an ubiquitous, all-powerful spirit,” a “universal mind,” of which humanity was a part, and in that case “how could there be such a thing as sin”? “The trick, for humans, was to access the boundless power of Spirit and thus exercise control over the physical world.” The final irony, as the author points out, is that what once was a liberating, if equally delusional, cult has eventually become as oppressive as the extreme Puritanism it had sought to replace. Inner struggle against natural negative thoughts replaced the inner struggle against natural impious thoughts, insistent advice to get rid of negative people in our lives and in the workplace sound very much like the dictates to reject and ostracize the sinners, and the demand to be cheerful no matter what, or fake it if you can’t be, has permeated our society to almost the same degree as the demand to believe in god and to be pious used to be. In both cases, it was supposed to be for the individual’s own good, old-time religion promising paradise in afterlife or at least a waiver from eternal torture, while new system of belief promises everything you can dream up in this life. And both put full responsibility for one’s circumstances on the individual – if bad things happen to you and you can’t turn them around, something’s wrong with *you*, you didn’t believe, pray, visualize, banish wrong thoughts hard enough. As Barbara Ehrenreich concludes, both ideologies are short on empathy.The author also claims that positive thinking is at least partly responsible for the recent irresponsible banking practices, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and failure to react to warnings which resulted in 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Personally, I think greed or general carelessness were more at fault here, with the insistence on positive thinking used more as a pretext to ignore or get rid of critics. She also maintains that findings of a link between positive emotions and the immune system are mixed. This I found rather strange because the link between stress and the immune system is well-documented, and so the absence of stress should be beneficial to the immune system. Perhaps, she hasn’t distinguished sufficiently between natural positive emotions which arise in reaction to positive circumstances and the forced optimism that one has to fight to maintain in the face of a negative situation (although she’s right, of course, in pointing out that the immune system fights foreign cells, like bacteria, and not one’s own cells, even if they become cancerous). So on the whole, I think her book is the strongest when she talks about contemporary American culture in general and positive thinking’s pernicious effect on it. After all, it’s the people who can face the reality as it is and get sufficiently upset over its negative aspects who change the world to the better, and not those who tell themselves that everything’s really fine or that they can do anything if they have a can-do attitude. I’ve found this is a refreshing and long-overdue book.more
Ehrenreich deals a much needed left hook to the cult of cheerfulness and positive thinking that has tyrannized all of us for several decades. Diagnosed with cancer and not naturally a teddy bear and pink ribbon sort, she finds herself swimming in a fetid cesspool of good cheer and proclamations of the positive difference that breast cancer had made in the life of numerous women. Naturally skeptical, she decides to examine the entire positive thinking juggernaut, and she does it in a witty, sometimes sarcastic, way that sits well with those of us who are tired of having cheerful jammed down our throats.more
A very interesting book although a little unfocused in parts. I always thought positive thinking seemed to have a bit of religious fervour associated with it in some quarters and it seems I might have been right. The book isn't saying we shouldn't be positive but it does say we should be realistic and if things are bad it should be OK to say they are bad. While this sounds like common sense the author argues that the industry of positive thinking/positive psychology/abundance theologies and "pastorpreneurs" (love that phrase!!) has made an impact on all of us.more
Ehrenreich gives us an informative and engrossing account of the cult of positive thinking that pervades American culture and global business. It is a stunning expose of a pernicious problem. What could be harmful about positive thinking? you might ask. As the author shows, it blinds us to the often troubling challenges of the real world, causing those deepest in its grasp to avoid confronting real problems, and squelching debate. Ehrenreich shows that positive thinking was an important factor in the current financial crisis, and that enforced happiness has a real potential to make people miserable.more
I liked the idea of this book much more than the execution. As someone with a healthy sense of cycnicism, and who is constantly being told "Smile, it's not that bad!", the title of this one did, in fact, make me smile. And having read "Nickel and Dimed", as well as some of Ehrenreich's essays, I figured this would be a definite winner. Unfortunately, I have to agree with other reviewers, maybe the subject matter for this one was a little too personal for her.more
Having read Ehrenreich's books on the disappearance of the middle class (Bait and Switch) and the horrendous conditions for the lower classes (Nickel and Dimed), I thought I'd check this one out, too, partially because I had someone at work tell me I really shouldn't post "negative" things on my Facebook because "future employers might see it and think you hate your students" (which I found ridiculous because, for one thing, that's my space and I should be free to rant there, and for another, I have it locked down on the tightest privacy settings possible). I figured she might be preaching to the choir--I already feel that a bit of cynicism might be healthy and realism is much healthier than the belief that nothing can ever go wrong as long as you're a Pollyanna--and I was mostly right. I did, however, learn quite a bit from the book, though overall it wasn't written quite as well as I've come to expect from Ehrenreich.I suspect the problem is that Ehrenreich took the subject much more personally than she's taken the others. The first chapter chronicles her battle with breast cancer and other patients' (and the doctors, and support staff, and society) insistence that positive thinking could help cure the disease, and exerting tremendous amounts of peer pressure to squash anger and other "negative" emotions related to battling a major disease. After this, she tackles the motivation industry and its pseudo-physics, American Christianity's adoption of positive thinking to turn god into an ATM, the APA's shaky research when it comes to positive thinking, and the ways in which this epidemic of positivity has contributed (and continues to contribute) to the current economic issues in America.The first halves, at least, of each chapter were well-written and got the point across, while the rest of each chapter tended to single out one or two guilty parties and belabor the point that what they were doing was fraudulent, harmful, and annoying. I suspect this book could easily have been half as long as it is without losing a whole lot of substance or content. However, perhaps for someone who didn't already agree with her, the parts that I found repetitious and tedious would be necessary to cement her argument and convince the skeptic.more
A thorough and relentless examination of the dark side of positive thinking, this book warns of the weakness of relying only on the positive view of life and its challenges. The author points our how the pervasiveness of this positive thought style in so many areas of contemporary life makes it difficult to look at problems and issues in life with a more realist view that would help us to work on overcoming difficulties.more
Smile or Die is Ehrenreich's analysis of the positive thinking industry in America, inspired by the attitudes she encountered while she underwent treatment for breast cancer. When looking at internet support groups and the like and talking to others with the disease she found that there was an overwhelming belief in that a positive mental attitude is the only way that the cancer can be beaten - smile or die.From there Ehrenreich looks at the huge money-spinning industry that has grown up around positive thinking, the reason this has developed (a reaction to Calvinism), the links to evangelical Christianity and how corporations have bought into the positive thinking mantras. She feels that the recent economic crisis came about because of collective positive thinking that did not allow anyone to point out the dangers of the misplaced optimism that fuelled, for example, the sub prime mortgage market.If ever a book was written to reinforce the prejudices about America that some over this side of the pond have, this is it. Americans come off as really quite stupid and unable to think for themselves. And to be honest it feels like Ehrenreich feels that way herself for a lot of the time!Seriously though, it was an interesting read and really quite scary at points.As always with these kind of books I question who Ehrenreich thinks her audience is. People involved in the positive-thinking industry? Probably not. Ordinary people who might get caught up in, and lose their livelihoods as a result of, the positive thinking ethos? Maybe. American left-wingers and smug Europeans who laugh at the naive optimism of those over the pond? Most definitely!more
An interesting read on how too much "Positive Thinking" can interfere with the real world, In particular, the medical world and the treatment of cancer.more
As a "glass half empty" kind of gal, I really felt a bond with Ehrenreich and her message that positive thinking will be the ruination of us. The first chapter, about cancer, especially hit home. The phrase "tyranny of positive thinking," has stuck with me, because isn't THAT the truth? If you should be so unlucky as to die from cancer in this day and age, most people assume that the victim did something wrong because if you are positive enough you will SURELY conquer it--mind over matter! What a load of BS. Anyway, proponents of positive thinking will hate this, the realists of the world will see all the places where positive thinking has insinuated itself and be shocked at its spread throughout the modern American psyche.more
very very interesting.more
the first chapter was especially great . She talked about her experience getting breast cancer and the whole pink ribbon look on the brightside way of thinking that came with it.more
Everyone who read and preaches The Secret and everyone in the Irish Government and senior Civil Service should be forcefed this book. Barbara Ehrenreich got breast cancer and got annoyed at the constant message of not letting it get you down (I had cancer too, I had a Doctor tell me that because I was a bit down I should add to my daily cocktail of minimum 8 and maximum 18 pills with antidepressants because it was important to be positive about it all - feck that, cancer is not a reason to be smiley happy and postponing dealing with the emotions it dredged up wasn't going to make them any easier to deal with and might have postponed my return to work).She looks at the platitudes and pink ribbons, The Secret, and the faux science that has pervaded corporate culture.By the Way, if you have staff, keep them happy by ensuring that they have time for themselves, their families, enough money to keep them above the poverty line and stopping sending them on bull**** courses that mean that they have to work twice as hard when they get back to their job, and starting to value them for their input rather than regarding them as numbers.Angry, me? Maybe more of us should be.more
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