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

Bright-sided by Barbara Ehrenreich
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's review
Apr 02, 2011

really liked it
Read in March, 2011

This was a really thought-provoking book. I'm glad I read it. Ehrenriech fearlessly takes on the culture of positive-thinking and suggests that this "belief-system" is oppressing us, Americans in particular. She starts out her book relaying her experiences of having breast cancer and how she was exhorted to think positively and not let cancer "get her down". She reports that within "cancer culture" there is the understanding that those who release negative thoughts and intend to get well, do indeed get better. Ehrenreich says this insistence on being positive so taints cancer culture, that women who go in to remission are even ostracized because they "gave in" and the remission is seen as some sort of personal failure. I was fascinated by these observations.

Ehrenriech draws parallels between the psychology of positive thinking, life coaching/motivational speakers and Christians who preach the "health and wealth" gospel. She offers specific, lacerating criticism to the phenomenon around the "The Secret" and Joel Osteen. She links these two seemingly disparate entities because, she argues, they share a common message, the message being "If you believe it, you can make it happen." The Secret bases these claims on "the law of attraction" while Osteen claims a Biblical basis ("God wants you to be rich!"). And of course the converse if true, if you don't have it (wealth, great life partner, job satisfaction, etc.) it's your fault because you're not inviting it or calling on God appropriately to bless you this way. Her logic and examples are so rich and thought-provoking. I found myself thinking a lot about how I pray and my understanding and expectations of God and his interactions in my daily life. Her ideas were so absorbing . . . I'm still chewing over them.

In the end, Ehrenreich's conclusions were really disappointing. All of her wonderful discussion ended up as a foundation for the argument that we should approach the world with the scientific method. I really enjoyed her analysis but was deflated by her final thoughts that we should not make claims unless they are based on longitudinal clinical research. bleh. As Einstein says, "Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted."

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