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Sonríe o muere: La trampa del pensamiento positivo

Sonríe o muere: La trampa del pensamiento positivo

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Sonríe o muere: La trampa del pensamiento positivo

ratings:
4/5 (72 ratings)
Length:
292 pages
5 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 1, 2016
ISBN:
9788415427599
Format:
Book

Description

Un libro necesario para entender muchos aspectos psicológicos de la crisis económica y social que vivimos.

Un ataque a la cultura del "yo lo valgo". Una llamada a la prudencia, a la responsabilidad individual y colectiva, y contra el pensamiento mágico que ha popularizado la autoayuda en los últimos años.

Escrito por una de las autoras más respetadas y carismáticas de Estados Unidos. Este libro ha suscitado una interesante controversia y ha tenido un gran éxito en sus ediciones estadounidense, británica y alemana.
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 1, 2016
ISBN:
9788415427599
Format:
Book

About the author

Barbara Ehrenreich is the bestselling author of over a dozen books, including Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch, Bright-sided, This Land Is Their Land, Dancing In The Streets, and Blood Rites. A frequent contributor to Harper's, The Nation, The New York Times and Time magazine, she lives in Virginia.


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Sonríe o muere - Barbara Ehrenreich

positivo.

I

SONRÍE O MUERE: EL LADO BUENO DEL CÁNCER

Mi primera tentativa de adhesión al pensamiento positivo tuvo lugar en el que, hasta ahora, ha sido el peor momento de mi vida. Si me hubieran preguntado, justo antes de que me diagnosticaran el cáncer, si yo era una persona optimista o pesimista, me hubiera costado mucho contestar. Pero resultó que, al menos en lo concerniente a la salud, era tan optimista que casi resultaba ingenua. Hasta entonces, nunca había pasado nada que no pudiera controlarse con unos estiramientos, un poco de dieta, un comprimido de ibuprofeno o, como mucho, un medicamento recetado. Por eso no me asusté cuando el ginecólogo me dijo que la mamografía –esa mamografía anual a la que una se somete desde que cumple los cincuenta, como buena ciudadana y buena asegurada, por pura rutina preventiva– no le acababa de gustar. ¿Podía tener cáncer de mama? Pues no había, que yo supiera, factores de riesgo: nadie de mi familia lo había sufrido, yo había sido madre relativamente joven, y les había dado el pecho a mis dos hijos. Comía bien, bebía muy de cuando en cuando, hacía ejercicio y, además, tengo los pechos tan pequeños que me imaginaba que algún bultito hasta me podría quedar bien.

Entonces el ginecólogo me dijo que debía hacerme otra mamografía cuatro meses después, y le dije que sí, más que nada para que se callase.

Lo consideré como un recado más que había que hacer, como cuando uno coge el coche y se acerca a Correos, al supermercado y luego al gimnasio; pero al entrar en el vestuario de la clínica me empecé a poner un poco nerviosa, y no solo porque tenía que desnudarme de cintura para arriba y ponerme en los pezones unas minipegatinas opacas en forma de estrella para protegerlos de los rayos X. El vestuario, que en realidad era poco más que un armario junto al austero despachito sin ventanas donde estaba el aparato de la mamografía, tenía algo mucho peor, algo en lo que reparé por primera vez: algo que daba por supuesto quién era yo, adónde iba, y lo que iba a necesitar cuando llegase allí. Al nivel de los ojos, prácticamente toda la pared estaba cubierta de papelitos fotocopiados con monadas sentimentales: lacitos rosa, una tira cómica sobre una mujer a la que le habían reducido los pechos por un error médico, una Oda a la mamografía, una lista de Las Diez Cosas Que Solo Las Mujeres Entienden (que tengamos ropa para los días de gorda, o rizadores de pestañas, por ejemplo) y, que no falte, el poema He rezado una oración por ti junto a la puerta, con rosas dibujadas.

Aquella mamografía, la madre de todas las mamografías, pareció durar una eternidad: se me pasó la hora del gimnasio, la de cenar, y hasta la de vivir. A veces era que la máquina no funcionaba bien, y me ponían en otra postura que parecía completamente caprichosa. Otras, las más, la placa de rayos salía correcta, pero a la radióloga invisible, que estaba en alguna otra parte, en un despacho que yo no veía, le llamaba la atención algo y pedía otra, sin dignarse salir a verme ni darme alguna explicación o alguna disculpa. Intenté camelarme a la ayudante para que se diera prisa, pero la chica no se quitaba de la cara esa sonrisita tensa y profesional, que quizá se había puesto porque se sentía culpable de estar torturándome así, o porque ya sabía algo que, para mi pesar, yo iba a averiguar también muy pronto. Y así pasamos otra hora más, repitiendo el proceso: aplastamiento, instantánea, consulta de la ayudante a la radióloga y de nuevo a tomar la imagen desde otro ángulo o con mayor nitidez. En los ratos en que la chica salía para hablar con la médico, me leí el New York Times entero, hasta las secciones que me importan tan poco como la de crítica teatral o los anuncios inmobiliarios, evitando cuidadosamente todas las revistas femeninas que estaban allí, aunque normalmente me gusta echarles un vistazo a los artículos sobre rímel a prueba de agua o cómo tener una gran noche en la cama, porque en el vestuario ya había captado una onda de peligro, un onda que, con los nervios de la situación, se podía traducir en la frase Feminidad es Muerte. Pero llegó un momento en que ya no me quedaba nada que leer más que uno de esos diarios gratuitos y allí encontré, entre el revoltillo de los anuncios por palabras, algo todavía más angustioso que la sospecha cada vez mayor de que quizá tuviera una enfermedad grave: un anuncio del osito del cáncer de mama, con un lazo rosa prendido en el pecho.

Como dice el dicho, en las trincheras no hay ateos; yo, personalmente, me puse a rezar en silencio, con un deseo ferviente y hasta entonces desconocido, rogando que se me concediera una muerte limpia y honrosa: que me comiera un tiburón, que me partiera un rayo, que sucediera un incendio o un accidente de coche. Por favor, que me mate un psicópata, imploré, cualquier cosa menos morir ahogada en ese almíbar sentimental de color rosa que cubría las paredes de aquel vestuario y rezumaba por el peluche de aquel osito. No me importaba morir, pero la idea de hacerlo aferrada a un oso de juguete y con una dulce sonrisa en el rostro… para eso ninguna filosofía me había preparado.

Al día siguiente, por teléfono, me dieron el resultado de la mamografía: tenía que hacerme una biopsia y, nadie me explicó por qué, una biopsia complicadísima, con anestesia general y en quirófano. Pero yo seguía sin preocuparme demasiado, y me enfrenté a la prueba como se enfrentaría al juicio o a la tortura una inocente a la que acusan de brujería: era la ocasión de limpiar mi nombre. Llamé a mis hijos para contarles que me iban a operar, pero les aseguré que la mayor parte de los bultos que detectan las mamografías –el ochenta por ciento, según me había dicho la ayudante del radiólogo– son benignos. Si algo iba mal, era aquel trasto de máquina.

Mi iniciación oficial en el cáncer de mama tuvo lugar el día de la biopsia, cuando me desperté y vi al cirujano de pie ante mí, al pie de la camilla, y le oí decir muy serio: Por desgracia, hay un cáncer. Al final de ese día, entre el sopor de la anestesia, llegué a la conclusión de que lo más insidioso de aquella frase no era que apareciera el cáncer, sino que no apareciera yo; porque yo, Barbara, no salía en aquella frase ni siquiera en calidad de punto geográfico de localización. Donde antes estaba yo –quizá no fuera nada del otro jueves, pero al menos era un espécimen normal hecho de carne, palabras y gestos– ahora hay un cáncer. Y había ocupado mi sitio, según se deducía de las palabras del cirujano. Ahora eso era yo, en términos médicos.

Mi último acto de digna autoafirmación fue decir que quería ver las placas de patología con mis propios ojos. El hospital era pequeño y no me pusieron muchas pegas, porque el patólogo resultó ser amigo de un amigo, y para conseguirlo desempolvé además mi ajada licenciatura en biología celular (Universidad Rockefeller, 1968). El patólogo era un tipo muy jovial, que me llamó cariño y me dejó sentarme con él ante un microscopio doble mientras manejaba los controles y señalaba cosas con un puntero láser. Estas son las células cancerígenas, me dijo, señalándome las de color azul, que se ponen así por el ADN hiperactivo. La mayoría estaban en grupos semicirculares de lo más ordenaditos, como las casas de una urbanización en calles sin salida, pero también vi lo que, como ya sabía, era mejor no ver: las características células avanzando en filas indias. El enemigo, tenía que pensar yo: era una imagen que tenía que guardarme para hacer luego ejercicios de visualización, para verlas morir violentamente a manos de las células asesinas naturales del cuerpo, los linfocitos y los macrófagos.

Pero sentí admiración, contra todo mi interés y toda mi racionalidad, por la energía de esas filas de células haciendo la conga, por su decidida disposición a salir de la retaguardia del pecho y colonizar los nódulos linfáticos, la médula ósea, los pulmones y el cerebro. Estas son, pensé, mis huestes fanáticas, las células rebeldes que se han dado cuenta de que el genoma que transportan, mi esencia genética quizá algo defectuosa, ya no tiene más posibilidades de reproducirse dentro de este cuerpo postmenopáusico en el que vivimos, y han pensado que lo mejor será multiplicarse como conejos y quizá irse luego a conquistar nuevas regiones.

Tras esa visita al patólogo, mi curiosidad sobre la biología cayó en picado hasta el nivel más bajo de toda mi vida. Conozco a mujeres que, tras el diagnóstico, se han pasado semanas o meses estudiando, valorando opciones, yendo a ver a un médico tras otro para que les expliquen los daños que puede producir cada posible tratamiento. Pero a mí me bastó con investigar unas pocas horas para ver que el itinerario de una paciente con cáncer de mama está ya bien trazado de antemano: puedes elegir más o menos entre que te quiten el tumor o que te quiten la mama entera, pero si eliges lo primero casi siempre hay que sufrir luego varias semanas de radiación; y en los dos casos, si tras la intervención se ve que el nódulo linfático está invadido (o afectado, como se suele decir para que no dé tanto miedo), no te libra nadie de varios meses de quimioterapia, que viene a ser como matar moscas a cañonazos. Las sustancias de la quimioterapia dañan y matan las células cancerígenas, pero no solo estas, sino también las células normales del cuerpo que en ese momento se estén dividiendo, como las de la piel, los folículos pilosos, las paredes del estómago y la médula ósea (que es de donde salen todas las células, también las de nuestras defensas). De ahí la calvicie, las náuseas, las pupas en la boca, las bajas defensas y, en muchos casos, la anemia.

Todas estas terapias no son una cura ni nada que se le parezca, y de ahí que la tasa de mortalidad del cáncer de mama haya variado muy poco entre la década de 1930, cuando no había otro tratamiento que la mastectomía, y la primera década del siglo XXI, cuando yo recibí el diagnóstico. La quimio, que se convirtió en el procedimiento estándar para tratar el cáncer de mama en los años ochenta, no brinda a las pacientes una ventaja demasiado apreciable, a pesar de lo que se les hace creer muchas veces. Va muy bien en mujeres jóvenes, las que no han tenido aún la menopausia, porque en ellas se pueden ganar entre siete y once puntos porcentuales de supervivencia a diez años; pero la mayor parte de las pacientes de este cáncer son mujeres mayores, como yo, postmenopáusicas, y en ellas la quimioterapia solo viene a añadir dos o tres puntos porcentuales de diferencia, según la cirujano de cáncer de mama más famosa de Estados Unidos, la doctora Susan Love.¹ En resumen: sí, puede darte unos meses de vida más, pero también te condena a muchos meses de enfermedad moderada.

De hecho, la historia del tratamiento del cáncer de mama es la historia de una lucha. En la década de 1970, los médicos aún llevaban a cabo mastectomías radicales, que dejaban a la paciente mutilada del lado intervenido, hasta que hubo activistas que protestaron y consiguieron mastectomías moderadas, menos brutales. Hasta entonces, la práctica habitual había sido extirpar el pecho entero justo a continuación de la biopsia, mientras la mujer aún estaba dormida y no podía tomar decisiones; también esto cambió, tras las protestas de las pacientes. Más adelante, en la década de 1990, hubo una temporada en la que se trataban los cánceres que habían hecho metástasis dando quimioterapia intensa para destruir la médula ósea y luego hacer un trasplante de médula; con ello, lo único que se consiguió, en casi todos los casos, fue acelerar la muerte. Puede que hoy día la quimioterapia, la radioterapia y demás sean el último grito, pero, en algún momento de la historia médica, también lo fue el poner sanguijuelas.

Yo era consciente de todos estos datos terribles, o empezaba a serlo, pero en aquellas primeras semanas, todavía con resaca de la anestesia, parecía incapaz de defenderme. Todos me presionaban, los médicos y mis seres queridos, para que hiciera algo inmediatamente: matarlo, extirpármelo cuanto antes. Me hicieron exploraciones exhaustivas, un escáner para descartar metástasis, pruebas cardiacas de última generación para comprobar si podría soportar la quimioterapia… y todo eso sirvió también para borrar la línea entre ser persona y ser cosa, entre lo orgánico y lo inorgánico, entre yo y ello. Según fuera avanzando el cáncer, explicaban los folletos, yo me iría convirtiendo en una mezcla de viva y muerta: tendría un implante en el lugar del pecho, una peluca donde estaba mi pelo. Y entonces, ¿qué iba a significar la palabra yo? Así que caí en un estado de irracionalidad pasivo-agresiva: ellos lo han diagnosticado, así que ellos se encargan. Ellos lo encontraron, que ellos lo arreglen.

Por supuesto, tenía la opción de probar suerte con las terapias alternativas, como la escritora punk Kathy Acker, que murió de cáncer de mama en 1997, tras someterse a varios tratamientos alternativos en México. O como la actriz Suzanne Somers, la que anunciaba el aparato de ejercicios ThighMaster, que había salido en todos los periódicos porque se autoadministraba inyecciones de extracto de muérdago. Pero yo nunca he sido especial admiradora de lo natural, ni creo en eso de que el cuerpo es sabio. Si hay algo natural es la muerte, y para mí mi cuerpo siempre ha sido como un hermano siamés un poco discapacitado al que llevo a rastras, un pelma que todo lo ve como un peligro; en mi caso, se pone como un loco ante los alérgenos normales de la vida diaria o ante un terroncito de azúcar de nada. Así que decidí confiar en la ciencia, por mucho que con ello llevara a mi estúpido cuerpo a transformarse en un payaso malvado que vomitaría, tendría temblores, se hincharía, cedería partes vitales y rezumaría fluidos postquirúrgicos. El cirujano (uno un poco más simpático y comunicativo) tenía hora para mí, el oncólogo podía verme. Bienvenida a Cancerlandia.

LA CULTURA DEL LACITO ROSA

Por suerte, nadie tiene que estar solo cuando pasa por esto. Hace cuarenta años, antes de que una serie de pacientes pioneras como Betty Ford, Rose Kushner o Betty Rollin lo contaran en público, el cáncer de pecho era un secreto terrible, que una sobrellevaba en silencio, y que aparecía en las esquelas bajo eufemismos como una larga enfermedad. Había algo en la conjunción de pecho, que implica sexo y crianza, con esa otra palabra que hace pensar en las pinzas de un crustáceo que te devora, que le daba miedo a casi todo el mundo. Sin embargo, hoy es la enfermedad más visible del panorama cultural: más que el sida, la fibrosis quística o las lesiones medulares; más aún que otros grandes asesinos de mujeres como las dolencias coronarias, el cáncer de pulmón o el infarto. Hay cientos y cientos de páginas web dedicadas al cáncer de mama, y junto a ellas los boletines, los grupos de apoyo, una sección completa de las librerías llena de relatos en primera persona sobre la enfermedad; y en Estados Unidos hasta una lujosa revista mensual dirigida a un público de clase media y alta, Mamm. Existen en este país cuatro grandes organizaciones contra el cáncer de mama, y de ellas la más potente, al menos en términos económicos, es la Fundación Susan G. Komen, que dirige una donante republicana que ha sufrido la enfermedad, Nancy Brinker. La Komen organiza una carrera anual, la Race for the Cure® [carrera por la curación], a la que acude casi un millón de personas, casi todas ex pacientes y sus familiares. En su página web se puede encontrar un mini universo de la cultura del cáncer de mama, con noticias sobre las carreras, foros donde se puede dejar testimonio de la lucha de cada una, y muchos mensajes de ánimo e inspiración.

Lo primero que descubrí, cuando empecé a navegar por las principales webs, es que no todo el mundo ve la enfermedad con pánico y horror. Por el contrario, la actitud que parece cundir es la de ánimo y hasta de franco espíritu derrochador. En Estados Unidos hay entre dos y tres millones de mujeres que se encuentran en alguna fase del tratamiento; si se les suman sus preocupadas familias, conforman un mercado considerable para todo tipo de productos relacionados con el cáncer de mama. Por ejemplo Carol, el Osito del Recuerdo; Hope [Esperanza], el Osito de la Investigación sobre el Cáncer de Mama, que luce un turbante como para tapar la calvicie de una quimio; la Osita Susan, que lleva el nombre de la hermana que perdió Nancy Brinker; y el Osito Nick y Nora Piden un Deseo, que se podía comprar, junto a la Osita Susan, en la web de la Fundación Komen.

Y los osos no son sino la punta, por así decir, de un cuerno de la abundancia rebosante de productos relacionados con el cáncer de mama y el lacito rosa. Para vestir hay sudaderas ribeteadas de rosa, camisas vaqueras, pijamas, lencería, delantales, ropa de andar por casa, cordones de zapatos y calcetines; complementos como broches rosas de strass, pines con angelitos, fulares, gorras, pendientes y pulseras; para dar ambiente a la casa, velas del cáncer de mama, soportes para velas de cristal rosa con lacito, tazas de café, colgantes, móviles con campanitas y luces piloto; y hasta se pueden pagar las facturas con Checks for the Cure™. Esta visibilidad sin duda sirve para combatir los secretos y los estigmas, pero yo no podía quitarme de la cabeza la idea de que el lugar en el que, como me dijo con la mano en el corazón una amiga, me iba a enfrentar a mi mortalidad, se parecía bastante a un centro comercial.

Tengo que decir que no todo esto implica necesariamente que haya una serie de mercaderes cínicos aprovechándose de las enfermas. Algunos de estos chismes con tema cáncer y algunos de sus accesorios son diseños de las propias mujeres afectadas, como Janice, creadora del Daisy Awareness Necklace [collar Daisy de la concienciación]; y en casi todos los casos se destina una parte de las ganancias a la investigación. Una mujer de Aurora (Colorado) llamada Virginia Davis tuvo la inspiración de crear el Osito del Recuerdo cuando a una de sus amigas le extirparon ambos pechos, y me contó que para ella su trabajo no es un negocio, sino más bien una cruzada. La entrevisté en 2001, y estaba gestionando el transporte de un cargamento de diez mil ositos, que se fabrican en China, y la donación de parte del dinero a la Race for the Cure. Cuando le dejé caer, con todo el tacto posible, que quizá para algunas personas, en algunos casos raros, los ositos podían resultar algo infantiles, me dijo que hasta entonces nadie se le había quejado.

–Solo recibo cartas de amor –me dijo–, de personas que me escribe: ‘Dios la bendiga por acordarse de nosotras’.

Esa ultrafeminidad del mercado del cáncer de mama (la enorme oferta, por ejemplo, de cosméticos y bisutería) podría entenderse como reacción al efecto desastroso que suelen tener las terapias en el aspecto de quien las sufre. Tampoco hay duda de que todas esas monerías y todo ese color rosa tratan de crear un estado de ánimo positivo. Pero tanto infantilismo resulta un poco difícil de aguantar, y no solo cuando viene en forma de osito de peluche. La Fundación Libby Ross, por ejemplo, entrega a algunos hospitales, como el Columbia-Presbyteran Medical Center, unas bolsas de regalo para dar a las afectadas, con detalles como un botecito de body milk perfumado de Estée Lauder, una funda de almohada de satén color fucsia, una latita de pastillas de menta, un juego de tres pulseras de strass baratas, una libreta rosa de hojas rayadas que pone en el tapa diario y cuaderno de dibujo y, bordeando el insulto, una caja de ceras de colores. Marla Willner, que es una de las promotoras de la Fundación Libby Ross, me dijo que las pinturas van con el diario, para que la gente exprese distintos estados de ánimo o distintas ideas, aunque reconoció que ella misma nunca había intentado escribir con ceras. Es posible que la idea de volver al estado dependiente propio de la infancia le ayude a una a ponerse en situación para soportar esas terapias largas y tóxicas. O quizá sea que, en ciertas versiones de la ideología de género que hoy triunfa, la feminidad resulte, por naturaleza, poco compatible con el estado adulto, un estado de desarrollo ya culminado. Porque, ciertamente, a los hombres a quienes se les diagnostica cáncer de próstata nadie les regala cochecitos de juguete.

Pero yo no era muy distinta de las que andaban abrazadas a su osito, y necesitaba cuanta más ayuda mejor, así que ahí me vi buscando obsesivamente trucos para compensar la caída del pelo, dietas para la quimioterapia, consejos sobre qué ponerme tras la intervención y qué comer cuando no pudiera soportar el olor de los alimentos. Vi enseguida que había mucha más información de la que una puede digerir, porque son miles las afectadas que han contado en internet su historia, desde que se encontraron el bulto o se hicieron la mamografía, pasando por la terrible fase de las terapias, generalmente con un inciso para mencionar las fuerzas que les han dado la familia, el buen humor y la religión, y acabando casi siempre con un mensaje de ánimo para la neófita aterrorizada. Muchos de estos mensajes son solo un párrafo, un saludo rápido por parte de una hermana de sufrimientos; pero otras brindan un relato casi en tiempo real de sus vidas bajo la quimioterapia y sin pechos:

Martes, 15 de agosto de 2000. Bueno, he sobrevivido a mi cuarta dosis de quimio. Hoy estoy muy, muy mareada. Con muchas náuseas, ¡pero sin vómitos! Por primera vez […] Me dan sudores fríos y el corazón se me desboca si paso más de cinco minutos de pie.

Viernes, 18 de agosto de 2000. […] En la cena, no podía soportar las náuseas. Me tomé las pastillas y me comí un bol de arroz con verduras que me habían traído de Trader Joe’s. Olía y sabía asqueroso, pero me lo comí […] Rick me trajo unos zumos Kern’s y estoy tomándolos. Parece que me asientan un poco el estómago.

Yo no me cansaba de leer relatos de este tipo, sintiendo una fascinación mezclada con pánico al ver cuántas cosas podían salir mal: septicemia, implantes que estallaban, metas (metástasis) en órganos vitales y –para mí, lo más terrible a corto plazo– cerebro de quimio, el deterioro cognitivo que a veces causa la quimioterapia. Me comparaba con todo el mundo, y sentía un desdén egoísta hacia las que no corrían tanto riesgo como yo; temblaba junto a las que habían llegado a la fase IV (como dice la protagonista de la obra de teatro Wit, que tiene cáncer de ovarios: No hay fase V), y valoraba sin parar mi posible suerte.

Pero, a pesar de tanta información útil, cuantas más compañeras de infortunio descubría y más leía, más sola me sentía. Daba la impresión de

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  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    Interesting, but a bit cumbersome at time. Puts into words much of what I have thought my entire adult life: It's great to be positive-minded, but how realistic is it? And isn't there an awful lot of pressure to be positive? All in all, I adore Barbara Ehrenreich, and I may name my first child after her. Partly talks about the religious origins of positive thinking as an antidote to Calvinism's doom-and-gloom doctrines, then wraps up with an intelligent discussion of the current economic crisis, pointing out that Wall Street (if not the entire business world) was so busy being positive and creative they forgot to pay attention to being fiscally sound. The motivational speaker industry and "good news" religion especially come under attack.Some quotes that I loved:
    • Entire chapter titled "The Years of Magical Thinking"
    • p. 76: "Elements of Calvinism, again without the theology ... The middle and upper classes came to see busyness for its own sake as a mark of status in the 1980s and 1990s, which was convenient, because employers were demanding more and more of them. ... While earlier elites had flaunted their leisure, the comfortable classes of our own time are eager to display evidence of their exhaustion - always "in the loop," always available for a conference call, always read to go "the extra mile."
    • p. 77: "For the individual believer, the weight of Calvinism, with its demand for perpetual effort and self-examination to the point of self-loathing, could be unbearable." (Later, Ehrenreich points out that "positive thinking" also demands constant effort and self-examination.)
    • p. 80: "... [I]t did work for the slow, nameless, debilitating illness that was reducing many middle-class Americans to invalidism. The symptoms of this illness, which was to be labeled 'neurasthenia' near the end of the century, were multitudinous and diffuse. ... Most sufferers ... reported back problems, digestive ills, exhaustion, headaches, insomnia, and melancholy.
    • p. 182-183: "While secular positive-thinking texts encouraged people to 'manifest' their material desires, pastors like Osteen and Dollar were insisting that God wants you to have all good things in life, including a beautiful home. ... Jonathan Walton, a religion professor of the University of California at Riverside, aruged that pastors like Osteen reassured low-income people with subprime mortgages by getting them to believe that 'God caused the bank to ignore my credit score and bless me with my first house.' Anthea Butler, an expert on Pentecostalism, added: 'The pastor's not gonna say, "Go down to Wachovia and get a loan," but I have heard, 'Even if you have a poor credit rating, God scan still bless you - if you put some faith out there [that is, make a big donation to the church], you'll get that house or that car or that apartment.' ... To many people who had long been denied credit on account of their race or income, the easy mortgages of the middle of the decade must have indeed come as a miracle from God. ... Household debt hit a record of 133 percent of household income."
    • p. 185: "However dire the situation, 'corporate America desperately wants to believe there's a positive outcome and message.' When called in by companies to deal with a crisis, he [D.C. crisis manager Eric Dezenhall] starts by telling them, 'I'm going to tell you something you're not going to like. "A crisis is not an opportunity."'
    • p. 194: "But at the time of this writing, Adam Smith's idea that the self-seeking behavior of individuals would add up to the general welfare of all no longer seems to apply. As individuals, we know that it would be suicidal to get deeper in debt to indulge our acquisitiveness, even if doing so could jump-start the economy, so we each hunker down and try to make do with less. The easy credit is gone; the reckless spending looks more self-destructive by the moment. Besides, we already tried all that.
    • p. 198: "... [S]ome stubborn strain of realism has persisted throughout these years of delusion. When the stakes are high enough and the risks obvious, we still turn to people who can be counted on to understand those risks and prepare for worst-case scenarios. ... We want our airplane pilots to anticipate failed engines as well as happy landings. ... Not only pilots need to envision the worst; so does the driver of a car. Should you assume, positively, that no one is going to cut in front of you or, more negatively, be prepared to brake? Most of us would choose a physician who is willing to investigate the more dire possibilities rather than one who is known to settle quickly on an optimistic diagnosis.
  • (3/5)
    If you're interested in investigating the shadows on the sunny side of the street...an entertaining look at the history, recent manifestations, and unforeseen ramifications of the "positive thinking" movement in the United States. One of the most interesting insights was the comparison to Calvinism.
  • (4/5)
    The first time I encountered a vision board was in the late 1990's when some friends of ours were trying to convince my spouse and me to sell Amway. We'd visit their apartment and see the magazine clippings of Mercedes sedans and diamond rings covering their refrigerator. This was shortly after one of them had quit grad school because he knew the only way he was going to reach his financial goals was to devote himself whole-heartedly to his business. That MD-PhD he'd almost completed was a dead end anyway.The first friend who used the term "manifest" to describe what our Amway friends were doing with the fridge photos tried to convince me that I just had to buy a house in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007. It was a no-brainer: every rich person she knew owned a house, and it was ridiculous not to get into the market. She had just done it, and in a few years, it would be totally worth the financial pinch. Then I told her my family's monthly household income, and she didn't mention home buying again.The day I started reading this book, another friend told me about the positive thinking certification class she was taking. "You'd really like it, Charity," she insisted, and I considered recommending this book to her along with Julie Norem's [book:The Positive Power Of Negative Thinking206028], but instead I just kept quiet.I am in the choir to whom Ehrenreich is preaching with this book. That's not to say I haven't taken a sip of the positive thinking Kool-Aid myself at times. From the draw of a friend's megachurch when I was eighteen to starting my very own Happiness Project a la Gretchen Rubin when I was thirty-three, I do sometimes buy into the idea that my cautious optimism/defensive pessimism is a character flaw. But mostly I'm happy to live outside of the positive thinking bubble.Most of what Ehrenreich says was no surprise to me, but one idea that really got my attention was that positive thinking discourages empathy. Ehrenreich writes:"The challenge of family life, or group life of any kind, is to keep gauging the moods of others, accommodating to their insights, and offering comfort when needed. But in the world of positive thinking other people are not there to be nurtured or to provide unwelcome reality checks. They are there only to nourish, praise, and affirm...There seems to be a massive empathy deficit, which people respond to by withdrawing their own. No one has the time or patience for anyone else's problems."(56)If our primary goal is our own personal momentary happiness, what incentive is there to empathize and build relationships?I admit, though, that even as I strongly endorse the idea of empathy and do my best to practice it myself every day, I continue to have a sense of scarcity around empathy. What if I put in the effort to empathize with others and then no one empathizes back?I've sworn off self-help books, but if I found one that focused on addressing the empathy deficit, I would read it.I do wonder: Is it better in other countries? Are there places I could live where positive thinking isn't so ubiquitous?
  • (4/5)
    Ehrenreich provides an antidote to everyone who believes that success is solely a result of attitude. From reading about people whose livelihoods were discarded during the Great Recession, it seems that many were demoralized by the popular perception that if only they had believed in themselves and worked harder, they could have avoided unemployment and financial ruin. The idea that individuals are solely responsible for the outcome of their lives atomizes us; it discourages us from working together to make broader social changes. I'm grateful that Ehrenreich can see these connections, from the obvious example of Oprah Winfrey espousing "The Secret" to Ehrenreich's own treatment for breast cancer, when she is shouted down by an online chorus after posting her honest feelings of anger and fear about her diagnosis.The one element that I felt the book was lacking was more interviews with people who promote positive thinking -- or those who once believed it and have become disenchanted. Ehrenreich attends a speaker's conference and a megachurch, and has insightful observations, but I would have loved to hear from more of the attendees.
  • (4/5)
    For a book with such a "negative" title and purporting to contain many hard truths, this was a surprisingly funny, entertaining read! Ehrenreich has put together a compelling selection of essays, particularly the opening chapter with its personal anecdotes of her time in treatment for breast cancer and experiences with positive thinking induced blame for her own illness. I got a bit bogged down on the last couple of chapters as they got somewhat samey/repetative towards the end (particularly "Motivating business and the business of motivation" and "Positive psychology: the science of happiness"), but I thought it ended on a strong note (making sure not to promote pessimism or unrealistic negativity in the place of optimism, but rather critical thinking and realism) and would say that for anyone feeling contrary about "The Secret" and its ilk this is worthwhile!
  • (2/5)
    An excellent subject but the delivery was repetitive; I could have stopped reading after the first couple chapters and come away with what I did after finishing the book.
  • (3/5)
    Positive thinking, far from being a support for happy and healthy life, is a delusional way of thinking. Journalist and biology Ph.D. Barbara Ehrenreich first came to this conclusion while fighting the deluge of joy and positivity among her fellow breast cancer patients. Her book examines the history of positive thinking as a doctrine of ever-similing America and its current manifestations in the corporate world, megachurches, positive psychology, and the 2008 financial meltdown.The good parts of her book: Ehrenreich's long career as a journalist and past career as a scientist came together in this book. She is best known for her experience living poverty in [Nickled and Dimed], and she resurrects that when writing about how the motivational speaker market indirectly shames the poor and unemployed for simply not trying hard enough. Her background as a scientist strengthens her critique of positive psychology as a science and a pseudoscience.I too feel some of her pain. I disdain self-help books and self-proclaimed gurus . So much of it seems like narcissism and magical thinking. Take [The Secret], which flew off the shelves yet was not worth the paper it was printed on. It seems like an easy target for ridicule, but if so, why did millions of Americans buy this book? Same goes for the bestsellers of plastic-smiled Joel Osteen. Ehrenreich does not mention this, but I suspect much of the mantra of positive thinking comes from a desire to avoid confronting the suffering of oneself or others. If a friend is feeling down, don't listen to their problems: just tell them to cheer up! Positive thinking can be quite hardass.Despite this points, Ehrenreich's book fails to deliver. It was hard to draw the line between her anger and lucid logic. Joel Osteen is an easy target, but her attacks on Martin Seligman and positive psychology seemed too ad hominem and not well-balanced. My mom pointed out to me that if she were to get breast cancer, she would not want to wallow in negativity and anger as Ehrenreich seems to want to do. She (the author) has fallen into the trap of overstating her good points, so much that they become bad points.This is too bad. Perhaps Ehrenreich should have written a book about "delusional thinking" rather than "positive thinking." Delusions of grandeur and perfection are the shadow, the evil twin, of positive thinking. These delusions were certainly one of the fuels of the 2008 meltdown. These delusions turn into the kind of positive thinking dogma and ideology - shun the nonbeliever! - that so frustrates this author. But these are not positive thinking per se. Ehrenreich's book would have been stronger had she made this point.
  • (3/5)
    I read this after reading Martin Seligman's Flourish because I wanted to hear from someone on the other end of the spectrum. Seligman thinks that the common treatment for depression, antidepressants with a dose of analytical therapy for why things go wrong, should be replaced with positive psychology. He concentrates on "perma" that is positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

    Ehrenreich's book takes on Seligman the man more than his thesis and so is weak in that area. But her writing on the pink ribbon movement surrounding breast cancer is finely observed and poignant since she herself is a breast cancer survivor. What she exposes is an infantilizing of women's needs. Must we be positive in the face of suffering? Why can't we suffer with dignity and not be called failures? When the US was warned that the terrorists were ready to attack in early 2001, Bush's optimism blinded him to the reality that was to come.

    I respect Ehrenreich, and Seligman, but see the need for both skepticism and optimism. It is too simple to pick one over the other.
  • (3/5)
    For all the rah-rah, be happy, be positive, let me show you the way for $29.95 books out there a refreshing look at reality. And that is what Barbara Ehrenreich offers with this book.Starting from her own battle with cancer which she managed to defeat without the help of a pink ribbon. She takes us through a number of scenarios in life where the positive thinking drum beaters endeavor to show us the way. Her message boils down to nothing inherently wrong with the positives, but they can easily be used in a coercive manner with which those who do not step in line, are stepped on.She concludes with the warning the eternal pessimists can be just as bad. It is up to us to look through both sides and strike a balance. Doing and accepting in life is an alternative to get through in one piece.
  • (5/5)
    I have never won the lottery. And clearly, this is because I have never really wanted to win the lottery. And when my friend got cancer, it was because she wanted it, and really, it is a gift, no?
    Barbara Ehrenreich goes on to describe the history of positive thinking, it's dangerous likeness to corporate America and "religious" cults, reveals that these three things are not at all separate from each other.
    As a cancer biologist, I must say I like the first chapter, as Ehrenreich describes the cultish attachment to positive thinking among cancer patients and "survivors" and the health industry. I also highly enjoyed the chapters on Christian positive thinking (mega churches...wow! really! they bring in that much money!) and of course, positive psychology.
    In the end, my only complaint would be that Ehrenreich was too kind to some of the people who abuse the masses for their own profit and wealth (though perhaps the masses deserve to be exploited, if we are so dumb and ignorant). Perhaps Ehrenreich managed to be more unbiased than I am, and that's a good thing.
    I now understand why and how being a realist started to be equal to "being negative" or "having a negative attitude." If I could just change my negative attitude and focus my mind to think real hard of the NY lottery... Wait, I won!!!! (no "I'm your long lost cousin, please give me some money" requests, please!)
  • (4/5)
    Me pareció muy amena la lectura, además de muy necesario para estos tiempos en donde abunda la idea de un "positivismo" enfermo que no permite ningún atisbo de negatividad. Una sociedad que elimina cualquier cosa negativa es una sociedad que genera una aversión al cambio, que invita al quietismo y la aceptación de que las cosas son como son y no hay alternativa.
  • (4/5)
    Another brave undertaking by an insightful sociologist who somehow never lost her ability to write convincingly and engagingly in grad school. Don’t bother trying to persuade others to read this book, though—they’ll ask you to repeat the title and assume you are trying to make them unhappy. In fact, Ehrenrich is arguing for empiricism, a dose of reality in a world in which many believe that wealth can be got by simply thinking about how you deserve it. News flash to the idiot mob: the world is a mix of good and bad news and you aren’t going to be very effective at your job or in your life if you ignore contrary evidence and ostracize individual thought. If you manage to magically manifest some dollars for yourself, buy this book.
  • (3/5)
    After being diagnosed with breast cancer, and flunking out of various support groups for failing to see it as a gift, Ehrenreich sets out to investigate the notion of positive thinking and it’s effects on American society. She looks at a view of illness where the disease is primarily there to learn from – and where it’s probably your own fault if you don’t get well. She looks at religion where, as a loooong reaction to puritanism, a version of God as a wish-granting genie is handing ut success to those who pray hard enough. She looks at psychology which is only interested in removing symptoms. She looks at a one-sided love affiar with particle physics, which spawns ”scientific” methods like ”The secret”. She attends tons of depressing self-help-esteem-boosting-get-rich-quick seminars. And, perhaps most unsettling, she looks at a management philosophy which focuses on gut feeling and motivation rather than actual skills, driving American economy towards collapse.Ehrenreich is tart, unflinchingly bitter and often funny. Many head-shakes and rolling eyes occur at the astonishing examples she presents. She’s also, I think, refreshingly open about her own position. I might feel she’s underplaying the benefits (on a much smaller scale) of a positive outlook, but her outspoken grumpyness is rather refreshing. In the end though, I feel perhaps the book is a little too repetitive. The points it makes are a bit too few. And dspite clocking in on just over 200 pages, it feels a little too long. Still, a recommended read, potentially eye opening.
  • (3/5)
    The only thing left for America to manufacture is happiness.
  • (3/5)
    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!
  • (3/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (2/5)
    I could not get into this one. Maybe I'll try again some other time.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    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!
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    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.