Jean's Reviews > Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich
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Jun 18, 2010

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bookshelves: non-fiction
Read from June 14 to 15, 2010

After seeing Barbara Ehrenreich on BookTV (Printer's Row in Chicago), I decided to read this book, although I didn't like her previous books (too liberal). In spite of my misgivings, I find myself agreeing with her on this subject. She takes shots at The Secret, Joel Osteen and the mega-churches ("God wants you to be rich"), and (horrors!) Martin Seligman. She makes some good points about today's "positive" culture (left out the smiley face and Forrest Gump), which brow-beats everyone into being happy. Her discussion of the historical roots of the positivism movement was also interesting. I agreed with her about The Secret and the mega-churches, but not about Seligman and Positive Psychology. She said their studies showed "correlations" not "causes." Of course, they did. This shows her basic ignorance about social psychology; there can only be correlations, not causes, because human beings are too complex. I totally disagreed that "positivism" was the cause of the recent crash. It was NOT positive thinking, it was Group Think, which is a totally different phenomenon. And it is not the problem of thinking too positively; it's the problem that you can't disagree with the boss in many cultures. Read about the Korean Air Lines problem sometime, where the many crashes back a few years ago were caused because pilots could not be disagreed with. This is NOT positivism. Sorry, Barbara. You can't blame the positive movement for the crash and recession.
She also confuses positivism with optimism; again, two totally different ways of thinking.
Here conclusion: We should all be realists. That's not how people are made. If we were all realists, I'm convinced no one would ever start a business or take a chance on getting to the moon or... you get the idea.
By the time I got to her conclusion I felt she was trying too hard to be negative about all this positive stuff. No rays of sunshine permeated her analysis; not a drop of Mary Poppins or Camille shone through her narrative. Come on, Barbara. Be a little more positive here.
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