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

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  8,961 ratings  ·  1,438 reviews
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 nin
Hardcover, 206 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by Metropolitan Books
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Start your review of Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
Oct 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Bill Kerwin
Jan 13, 2010 rated it really liked it

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
Aug 10, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
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
Dec 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 enjoyed this book. It left me feeling angry, which I regard as the highest praise.

Hurrah for realism however bleak and a pox on the blindness of optimism. Or instead as the old joke goes - lets draw the curtains and pretend the train is still moving. Indeed this is a book that reminds me of Douglas Adams' Electric Monk from a Dirk Gently adventure.

The first chapter deals with her experience of breast cancer - did I mention this is cheerful book - her points in passing here the association of
Jan 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Breast cancer patients/survivors; people who have been laid off
Recommended to Carmen by: Caroline
Well, I basically slept my way through this. (That sounded wrong...)

I was surprised and disappointed that I was so bored by this, especially since Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America remains an invigorating favorite of mine. Her brilliance, humor, and biting cynicism is still in effect here - it's not as if her intelligence and wit has gone away - however, I find the material to be sorely lacking.

Ehrenreich starts out on a high note, with one of the strongest chapters i
MJ Nicholls
Sep 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a 2009 review. I belatedly found some really embarrassing typos and couldn’t help myself. :0

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, loc
Mar 14, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
I dare say I'm too late to the party on this one to say anything that hasn't already been said. However....

Of course I  knew all about the delusion of 'positive thinking', radiating from independent hucksters and Christian conmen, making a fortune from the scam. But I didn't realise that the scam reached deep into academia, shysters claiming to be teaching science, aka positive psychology.  And I hadn't cottoned onto the point that it is a manipulative tool to keep people down in the US, in exac
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
Nov 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-affairs
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
Dec 16, 2013 rated it did not like it
This is one of the rare books that I can read, agree with the author on most points, and still hate. It took me a while to figure out why this was. I completely agree with Barbara Ehrenreich that people suffering from cancer and other chronic diseases shouldn't be coerced into thinking that they are responsible for their disease progressing poorly if they don't think positively enough. I completely agree with her assessment of "The Secret" and other such programs being complete BS. I also comple ...more
Dec 17, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2009
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, somewhat mean-s
Allison DeLauer
Feb 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Debbie "DJ"
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great read. This book takes a look at the whole "positive thinking" culture. It offers a different viewpoint. Sometimes things just suck! Ehrenreich discusses everything from cancer, to the economic downfall. In order to have an informed opinion, I think both sides need to be investigated. While I may not agree with all her points, many rang true. I thought this was a well articulated and compelling read. ...more
Elyse  Walters
Jul 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing

But I didn't know how to say what I wanted to say without saying I read it!!!!!!

Hearing somebody be TOO positive at inappropriate times ...just feels worse!

If your (fill in the blank), was dying... or you had found our you had Cancer ...
would you want to hear... "Oh just keep your chin up" .... "Hang in" ... or "THINK POSITIVE", "cheer up".

might you just prefer to hear....

"I'm so sorry"!

which feels better?

I can name a hundred of other negative o
(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
Al Bità
Mar 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Deborah Markus
Aug 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Simon Wood
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing

Ehrenreich came face to face with the subject of positive thinking when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Buried under an avalanche of pink ribbons, teddy bears, and bogus claims for the value of positive thinking in beating cancer (hence the title Smile or Die!) she began to look into the pervasiveness of positive think-ism in American society in her usual thorough, good humoured and insightful manner.

It is everywhere. There are "Christian" denominations th
Jay Green
If you have to read one Barbara Ehrenreich book, make it "Dancing in the Streets," a tour de force of eye-opening research. Smile or Die is pleasant enough but doesn't surprise in any way. Decades ago I worked as a correspondence course teacher for a company in the UK that had imported many of the principles of positive thinking, so I'm familiar with the tropes and the cynicism underlying the business: the managing director of the company told me when I took the job on that "Our products are mos ...more
Mar 18, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Lauren Davis
Sep 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ah.. at last... a member of my tribe!

What's wrong with being sad and depressed when you're sick and suffering; horrified by the bombing of innocents; furious with inequality, racism, misogyny, ageism; outraged by corporate malfeasance and immunity? A little pessimism and skepticism is damn useful.

I suspect I'm in the minority when I say I don't believe having a positive, cheerful outlook will cure cancer. In fact, I don't think cancer, or any other illness, gives a fart if I'm chipper, whereas
Jan 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Ivonne Rovira
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Every wonder how these positive-thinking gambits are supposed to work, the ones that are supposed to make you richer (Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich), more popular (Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People), or more godly (Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power Of Positive Thinking)?

Spoiler alert: In short, they don’t.

Barbara Ehrenreich, who exposed the underbelly of the service economy in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, provides the same service for the multi-b
Melanie Page
Jun 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sjcpl
“Keep Calm and Stay Positive.”

“Everyday is a second chance.”

“S.M.I.L.E.–See Miracles in Life Everyday.”

“Positive Mind. Positive vibes. Positive life.”

I ask myself, what do positive quotes teach us, other than “every day” and “everyday” are used interchangeably without fail? Barbara Ehrenreich, a highly credible journalist with 16 books under her belt and whose work appears in college textbooks, must have asked a similar question before she started writing Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promoti
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book explores the pervasive pressure to be "positive" in America. How an excessive expectation of "cheerfulness is required" while "dissent is treason" in many public environments (e.g. the workplace office). Ehrenreich challenges, for example, if Americans are really so happy, why do they account for nearly two-thirds of the antidepressant market? She's not against optimism. And she's not advocating pessimism. She's just for more objectivity and keeping it real in our daily personal and pr ...more
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Barbara Ehrenreich is an American journalist and 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.

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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.” 44 likes
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