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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 Oct 13, 2009
ISBN: 9781429942539
List price: $9.99
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First chapter is about breast cancer and it really didn't seem suitable as fodder in a book criticizing positive thinking. It seemed to indicate just how close the author is to her subject. I like my non-fiction to be non-partisan, and this book does not give the sense that it is, at all, unbiased.Thinking positively certainly won't do you any harm, and if it improves your quality of life, that's a good thing. Whether or not it's effective as a 'cure' (or money-maker) is irrelevant. I don't think Ehrenreich successfully argued her point(s) and any that might have been supported by "evidence" were then overshadowed by her investment in the subject.read more
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Ehrenreich criticizes and makes fun of the positive thinking crowd in this book. That part is enjoyable to read and often humorous. And, it is very easy to do. I mean, come on, does anyone but the most easily manipulated people really believe that the “Law of Attraction” can really work in a direct way for you, and that by simply imaging success (or whatever it is that you want – a lover, a cure) for yourself, you can magically make it happen. Ehrenreich seems to believe that Americans have in large numbers accepted this clap-trap in some sort of deluded group-think. But, despite the fact that some charlatans have been able to become rich in part by selling this theory, there is nothing much to suggests that many people really swallowed the tonic wholesale.I think that she her argument that the popularity of their self-help books, motivation coaches and some religious leaders was the major cause of the recent financial collapse of the economy is similarly quite thin on evidence. Since she takes positive psychology to task in this book for lacking scientific studies to support their theories, I would have thought that she would not claim that positive thinking has caused the “undermining” of America based only on a co-relation, some anecdotal stories and the similarly unsupported opinions of others.While some corporations attempted to use positive thinking's approach to help the company's mission succeed financially, there is no reason to conclude that the corporation's top management were exercising it when they chose what the mission should be. Or, that their commitment to any business plan was influenced by a belief that they could have it work if only every employee believed it would.Also, I think that she is mistaken to equate the feelings of opportunity that some people may have when faced with a great adversity in their personal life, whether it is a medical diagnosis such as cancer, getting laid off or experiencing some other devastating loss, with the delusional positive thinking that she rightly ridicules. When someone goes through a major change in their life, even one that also causes great personal pain and suffering, it seems to me to be reasonable to view that as an opportunity to question the assumptions that you had been living with and to rethink your priorities. It can make you realize what is really important and what is just veneer. This reminds me of the joy that people experience in the face of major societal disruption that Rebecca Solnit wrote about in A Paradise Built in Hell – The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. I would hope that Ehrenriech would not find in incorrect for people to experience these positive feelings in the face of great stress.Finally, I was put off and must also comment on one small point that Ehrenriech makes. At pages 56-57, when noting that Reverend Will Bowen had distributed his purple anti-negativity bracelets in “schools, prisons and homeless shelters.” Ehrenriech then wonders “how successful they have been in the latter two settings.” This makes it seem that she is equating the residents of prisons and homeless shelters in ways that are not necessarily true. It is unclear exactly what her thinking is.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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First chapter is about breast cancer and it really didn't seem suitable as fodder in a book criticizing positive thinking. It seemed to indicate just how close the author is to her subject. I like my non-fiction to be non-partisan, and this book does not give the sense that it is, at all, unbiased.Thinking positively certainly won't do you any harm, and if it improves your quality of life, that's a good thing. Whether or not it's effective as a 'cure' (or money-maker) is irrelevant. I don't think Ehrenreich successfully argued her point(s) and any that might have been supported by "evidence" were then overshadowed by her investment in the subject.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Ehrenreich criticizes and makes fun of the positive thinking crowd in this book. That part is enjoyable to read and often humorous. And, it is very easy to do. I mean, come on, does anyone but the most easily manipulated people really believe that the “Law of Attraction” can really work in a direct way for you, and that by simply imaging success (or whatever it is that you want – a lover, a cure) for yourself, you can magically make it happen. Ehrenreich seems to believe that Americans have in large numbers accepted this clap-trap in some sort of deluded group-think. But, despite the fact that some charlatans have been able to become rich in part by selling this theory, there is nothing much to suggests that many people really swallowed the tonic wholesale.I think that she her argument that the popularity of their self-help books, motivation coaches and some religious leaders was the major cause of the recent financial collapse of the economy is similarly quite thin on evidence. Since she takes positive psychology to task in this book for lacking scientific studies to support their theories, I would have thought that she would not claim that positive thinking has caused the “undermining” of America based only on a co-relation, some anecdotal stories and the similarly unsupported opinions of others.While some corporations attempted to use positive thinking's approach to help the company's mission succeed financially, there is no reason to conclude that the corporation's top management were exercising it when they chose what the mission should be. Or, that their commitment to any business plan was influenced by a belief that they could have it work if only every employee believed it would.Also, I think that she is mistaken to equate the feelings of opportunity that some people may have when faced with a great adversity in their personal life, whether it is a medical diagnosis such as cancer, getting laid off or experiencing some other devastating loss, with the delusional positive thinking that she rightly ridicules. When someone goes through a major change in their life, even one that also causes great personal pain and suffering, it seems to me to be reasonable to view that as an opportunity to question the assumptions that you had been living with and to rethink your priorities. It can make you realize what is really important and what is just veneer. This reminds me of the joy that people experience in the face of major societal disruption that Rebecca Solnit wrote about in A Paradise Built in Hell – The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. I would hope that Ehrenriech would not find in incorrect for people to experience these positive feelings in the face of great stress.Finally, I was put off and must also comment on one small point that Ehrenriech makes. At pages 56-57, when noting that Reverend Will Bowen had distributed his purple anti-negativity bracelets in “schools, prisons and homeless shelters.” Ehrenriech then wonders “how successful they have been in the latter two settings.” This makes it seem that she is equating the residents of prisons and homeless shelters in ways that are not necessarily true. It is unclear exactly what her thinking is.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Sometimes the personal really is political: Ehrenreich's brush with breast cancer abruptly put her in the world of America's cult of positive thinking. This book is an exploration of this particular flavor of magical thinking, and how it affects our lives.
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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.
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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.
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