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

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  5,519 ratings  ·  994 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 Am
ebook, 256 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by Metropolitan Books (first published 2008)
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Oct 31, 2009 Katie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: normal people
Recommended to Katie by: The Daily Show
Boy is it nice to see someone exposing Positive fucking Psychology, The Secret, the "prosperity gospel," and all the rest of the American happytalk crap. I get so sick of it. I get so fucking sick of it. God, I got so sick of it at the Health NonProfit Call Center I worked at--all the smileys and balloons and cheery emails with little animated cartoons ("Join me on the coverage train!") and the required-attendance pep rallies and the color-coded performance scales with little medals and the cute ...more
Barbara Ehrenreich was first exposed to the dark side of the positive thinking movement when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Early into her cancer journey, she discovered that normal emotions such as anger and fear were being aggressively denied by those who believed that a positive attitude was crucial to survival. Cultural skeptic that she is, Ehernreich poured through the literature on the subject and found that, not only did science fail to support the hypothesis that a positive attitu ...more
I always feel slightly guilty about my reaction to Barbara Ehrenreich's writing. I do admire her - she is ideologically committed, writes with passion, is on what I consider the "correct" side of the various social issues that concern her. And yet ... somehow I always end up with these niggling reservations that prevent me from endorsing her books wholeheartedly.

In the case of "Nickel and Dimed", probably her best-known work, the niggling reservation was the artificiality of the whole endeavor
MJ Nicholls
This Just In

Short paragraphs and emoticons in reviews quadruple reading pleasure. :)

Shiny Happy People

Apparently, forced happiness is crushing the spirit of the American workforce and driving ravenous capitalists to unstoppable heights of self-delusion that contribute to the one hundred trillion dollars or so national debt. :) :)

I Love Your Smile

Millions of unemployed people, many middle-class professionals, have been forced into taking minimum wage jobs, in which any negative comments are met w
Jun 17, 2010 Trevor rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Trevor by: Lena Phoenix
There is little point writing a review of a book once Lena has written one - - not, of course, that that will stop me.

This is a wonderful book. The main idea behind it is that we have developed a religious (quite literally) fervour for positive thinking. The best bits of this book are when she talks about the Evangelical Churches in the US and how they have moved away from negative images (like Jesus on the cross) towards Jesus in a three-piece business s
I remember reading this line in Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist: "When you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true." I didn’t think about it too much. The book was full of such ridiculous but touchy-feely-warm-and-fluffy pronouncements. But then I kept seeing this quote everywhere. And Coelho is not the only one going around saying such vacuous platitudes. The reason why so many people find such patently-false absurdities charming or even inspiring ...more
Judie Holliday
Ehrenreich is the Richard Dawkins of positive thinking. While I like to think that I broadly agree with her, I'm sometimes put off by the way she says things and the spin she likes to put on certain people. Sarcasm should not be such a major weapon of an obviously intelligent and otherwise convincing author.

In some chapters, along with some very reasoned and potent argument, she attacks people for the way they dress or for their hairstyle (mullets and bulletheads). Do I have to dislike everythin
Read the reviews by Trevor ( and Lena ( They are better, but I couldn’t resist a few comments.

I didn’t expect to like this book. I wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about Nickle and Dimed, but this title was chosen for our reading club, so I gave it a whirl.

Ehrenreich uses her personal experience with breast cancer as a jumping off point.which led to her loathing for the pink-ribbon-cancer-is-a-blessing-and-will-make-you
Last year, while working in one of the roughest schools in one of the roughest districts of Orange County, I had a chance to see how the positive thinking/ self-help movement had slimed its way into public education. Each day at School X came with newly minted (and labeled) behavioral issues, expulsions, and cop cars, always cop cars. Many of the kids were flirting with, or had already joined, local gangs, and during my last week a group of students caused a five car pile up by hurling rocks int ...more
Allison DeLauer
I've been waiting my whole life for someone to write this book. THANK YOU! Ever since the positive thinking curriculum in sixth grade I've loathed the philosophy. Then there was the junior high math teacher who wanted us to visualize getting the "A." It makes me feel awful to want to slap any person who says, "everything happens for a reason" or "why did you draw that into your life?" -would you say that to a someone in the third world, or in a war -torn country?- Now someone has taken my side - ...more
another book i wanted to like more than i did. also a book that makes me realize that i need to expand my book categories a little. anyway...i contemplated buying this book, but i saw barbara ehrenreich's interview on "the daily show" & found it really frustrating (is it absolutely necessary to be so hyperbolic & smug on national television?), so i settled for putting it on hold at the library. & i'm glad i did, because i was really disappointed.

i was hoping for a smart, clever, som
Before you back away from this title, understand that the opposite of positivism is not negativism, but realism. Ehrenriech does a masterful job of taking on the "happyness" culture that pervades business, organized religion, pop psychology, and the American way, where being "upbeat" is no longer a guideline, but a requirement. Particularly disturbing are her accounts of people being drummed out of cancer support groups for not being positive enough during obviously failing prognoses, and the qu ...more
Mar 21, 2010 Jason rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who feel it's wrong to suffer
Yes. I agree with this author, Barbara Ehrenreich. So how about a rant that supports her suspicion of the recent American fad with 'Positive Thinking?'

Thank goodness for The Great Recession. It came exactly at the right time. And global warming too! For the last 40 years or so (but especially since the 1980s) Americans have absorbed the opiate of positive thinking. It's a happiness movement run amok across our culture. And we hope--the author and I--that the global financial meltdown has stopped
Deborah Markus
I sought this out after reading Ehrenreich's L.A. Times essay on her experience with breast cancer. The first chapter of this book is indeed called "Smile or Die: The Bright Side of Cancer." Because I'm shallow, I didn't find the transition from the personal to the political a smooth one. It works thematically; it didn't work for me emotionally.

However, once I got over wanting to hear more about her own life, I understood how valuable this book is. It exposes the cruelty inherent in the positive
I found this book disappointing. I agree with Ehrenreich that the "positive thinking" movement is a load of malarky, and I found her arguments about the harm that positive thinking does in business world and in the prosperity gospel movement to be convincing. But the section on breast cancer patients really turned me off. I think it's true that patients should be allowed to deal with cancer in their own ways and not be shunned or ostracized for being angry or upset about their disease. I also ag ...more
Al Bità
This is a superb examination of a current cultural malaise which has taken over and dominated western thinking: Positive Thinking. So prevalent is this malaise that we automatically accept its premise: be positive. Nobody wants to be negative!

But 'being negative' is not what this book is about. It is concerned to reveal to the reader that there are deep and ugly realities that masquerade under the big smiley face we see everywhere; and it can and does do real harm. This is to be found in politic
Rebecca Foster
The week I was reading this book, my mother happened to ask what I had been reading lately during our regular phone call and I replied that I was reading a book about positive thinking. Her pleased “oh?” quickly morphed into a not-very-effectively-smothered whimper of dismay as I explained that it was a critical book about how self-help and pop psychology have done America a disservice and kept people from facing the truth. After that we didn’t talk so much about books; I think she is best off n ...more
Rebecca Foster
(Though I prefer the more provocative UK title: Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World.) The week I was reading this book, my mother happened to ask what I had been reading lately during our regular phone call and I replied that I was reading a book about positive thinking. Her pleased “oh?” quickly morphed into a not-very-effectively-smothered whimper of dismay as I explained that it was a critical book about how self-help and pop psychology have done America a disserv ...more
I was given this book for Christmas--I thought pretty much as a joke--"We all know you're a crabby old grouch, so here's some ammunition for you." I expected it to be a collection of snarky and witty anecdotes a la Maureen Dowd, but it turned out to be far more heart-felt and sober, without being (too) bitter. Or as Samuel Johnson put it about Law's A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, "I expected it to be the usual thing, but it quite overmastered me." She begins with her own experience o ...more
Summary: Barbara Ehrenreich has never been hugged...

I'm sorry, Barbara Ehrenreich thinks that positive thinking is ruining our country. It denies people their genuine emotions and convinces them that they can do things just with their mind. Wait, I'm sorry, is that what she said? I'm still not sure because her logic was all over the place.

Review: Obviously I can't give an impartial summary, largely because this book was more poorly argued than my senior thesis....and I wasn't a very bright coll
Excellent wake-up call! Her criticisms of the positive thinking movement are well-grounded and insightful. She makes a critical distinction between positive delusions and true happiness, which allows for one's genuine emotions whether they be grief, anger, etc... She addresses our lack of empathy for others when we shut them out or blame them for becoming I'll because of their "negativity" whether they have cancer and are dying. She also makes the point that positive thinking that is delusional ...more
At the conclusion of her introduction to Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, Barbara Ehrenreich states that the first step towards making substantial changes for the better in our world is to “recover from the mass delusion that is positive thinking” (13). I agree. This is a very perceptive and interesting book. I regret not writing this review after finishing the book (which I did a month ago) because some of the details have faded from my mem ...more
A huge disappointment, especially because I usually like her stuff. When she focuses on business culture and economics, her writing shines! But bring it home to something personal, like illness? Good grief, it's awful.

I forced - I mean, really FORCED - myself to finish the first chapter, in which she details her experience with breast cancer... She cites many various and valid studies that show that positive thoughts and emotions really do help the body heal, but then claims, at one point, that
Bright-Sided has a terrific introduction about the history and influence of positive thinking in our culture. Ehrenreich's writing is always clear, well-supported and interesting but I was surprised how engaged I got in her argument that positive thinking is too often a mindless, childish whitewash over the reality of nature and our culture. She cites measures of happiness that place Americans way down the list although we work so hard at the happiness business. She wrote a terrific chapter abou ...more
Bill  Kerwin
It was bad enough that Barbara Ehrenreich suffered from breast cancer: what made it even worse was that so many people--medical professionals as well as friends and acquaintances--insisted that she be upbeat and positive about her affliction. Now, in addition to feeling angry and scared, she had to feel guilty about not looking on "the bright side." This experience led Ms. Ehrenreich to examine the origins of Positive Thinking in America (Dr. Quimby's New Thought, Mary Baker Eddy) as a reaction ...more
Oh how I hated this book. It will likely go down as my least favorite of 2014.

Whether or not I agree with her premise could not be determined. Her premise seems to be "I am right and you are wrong and let's make fun of people."

Like women who are comforted by the "pinkification" of breast cancer.

There are real enemies to poke at here. Corporations that pink up everything and give tiny donations to breast cancer research. The NFL's pandering to women. But making fun of those who DO feel better? O
A very enlightening (and frustrating!) look at the origination and proliferation of the cult of positive thinking in America. I've never subscribed to the feel-goodism philosophy, and it was interesting to learn of its roots and just why it's taken over so many aspects of one's daily life within the family and workplace. Relentless, blind optimism sucks!
Chris Aylott
There are a lot of charlatans selling happiness, and Ehrenreich does a good job of skewering them. She also points out how companies use the motivational industry to placate workers who are being treated like crap, and that is also a good thing. But I think she misses the point here, which is that "positive thinking" is a tool and a symptom, not a cause.

There have always been snake oil salesmen, and they have always cloaked themselves in the the reigning science or magic of the times. There have
I am admittedly going through a rough patch in my life. It’s dark, desolate, and feels hopeless. Although well intentioned; I sometimes become frustrated with those who simply tell me to remain optimistic in order to manifest positive outcomes (like some sort of magic spell). This makes my issues feel demeaned and minor. Well, I think this is a bunch of baloney. Barbara Ehrenreich seems to agree with me in “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Undermined America”.

Lari Don
What a powerful book! I think of myself as a positive, optimistic, glass-half-full sort of person, and I would, last week, have described myself as someone who was in favour of "positive thinking" but now that I've read this book, I'll be much more suspicious of the phrase. It's fine to see a glass as half-full rather than half-empty, if there is liquid in it, but it's delusional and dangerous to claim it's half full just because you wish it was, and actually there is nothing in there, or the gl ...more
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Barbara Ehrenreich is the bestselling author of sixteen previous books, including the bestsellers Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. A frequent contributor to Harpers and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time Magazine.

More about Barbara Ehrenreich...
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation

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“I do not write this in a spirit of sourness or personal disappointment of any kind, nor do I have any romantic attachment to suffering as a source of insight or virtue. On the contrary, I would like to see more smiles, more laughter, more hugs, more happiness and, better yet, joy. In my own vision of utopia, there is not only more comfort, and security for everyone — better jobs, health care, and so forth — there are also more parties, festivities, and opportunities for dancing in the streets. Once our basic material needs are met — in my utopia, anyway — life becomes a perpetual celebration in which everyone has a talent to contribute. But we cannot levitate ourselves into that blessed condition by wishing it. We need to brace ourselves for a struggle against terrifying obstacles, both of our own making and imposed by the natural world. And the first step is to recover from the mass delusion that is positive thinking.” 27 likes
“But the economic meltdown should have undone, once and for all, the idea of poverty as a personal shortcoming or dysfunctional state of mind. The lines at unemployment offices and churches offering free food includes strivers as well as slackers, habitual optimists as well as the chronically depressed. When and if the economy recovers we can never allow ourselves to forget how widespread our vulnerability is, how easy it is to spiral down toward destitution.” 27 likes
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