Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

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Macmillan, Oct 13, 2009 - Psychology - 235 pages
86 Reviews

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.

  

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User Review  - bluepigeon - LibraryThing

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 ... Read full review

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User Review  - GingerbreadMan - LibraryThing

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 ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction
1
The Bright Side of Cancer
15
two The Years of Magical Thinking
45
three The Dark Roots of American Optimism
74
four Motivating Business and the Business of Motivation
97
five God Wants You to Be Rich
123
The Science of Happiness
147
seven How Positive Thinking Destroyed the Economy
177
eight Postscript on Post Positive Thinking
195
Notes
207
Acknowledgments
225
Copyright

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About the author (2009)

Barbara Ehrenreich is the bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch, Bright-sided, This Land Is Their Land, Dancing in the Streets and Blood Rites, among others. A frequent contributor to Harper's and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time magazine. She is the winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize for Current Interest and ALA Notable Books for Nonfiction.   Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana, when it was still a bustling mining town. She studied physics at Reed College, and earned a Ph.D. in cell biology from Rockefeller University. Rather than going into laboratory work, she got involved in activism, and soon devoted herself to writing her innovative journalism. She lives and works in Florida.

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