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Brisbane, Austria | Member Since 2008

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

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By Barbara Ehrenreich
    • Narrated By Kate Reading
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    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 19th-century healing technique to its enshrinement as a dominant, almost mandatory, cultural attitude.

    Susan says: "Finally an Answer to "The Secret""
    "Norman Peale was a Charlatan; Thanks You Barbara!!"

    Barbara's fractally correct in every possible way here; one simply *cannot* choose to be happy. We would all be better off if we dismissed this blatant lie touted by Norman Vincent Peale. In her introduction, she addresses and clarifies the difference between hope (a natural, involuntary emotion we feel when things appear to be going our way, or, at the very least, appear to be improving) and optimism (a state of mind that can be cultivated through sufficient practice and expensive positivity seminars and/or prosperity gospel sermons). This is crucial - the positive charlatans of recent decades advocate forced optimism, not realistic, spontaneous, justified hope. This, obviously, would explain why on most happiness metrics, despite having a reputation has a "positive" country, the US scores deplorably. With an obscenely high poverty rate and prison population, this is hardly news to anyone living outside a cave. And, as Barbara astutely notes, positivity only works when it is not forced. Trying to impose happiness on oneself only leads to bitterness and a desire to rush home and switch off the Optimism Switch in one's head, for the culture of the US has been so polluted by positive thinking that many feel the only place they can be themselves (and realistic and/or pessimistic) is outside the gaze of others.

    She shows how right-wing demagogues often cite pithy positive thinking platitudes as an attempt to blame those in perpetual poverty. And as we all know, those who fail to "will" the cancer away are never the subject of happy positive thinking books. And perhaps worst of all, positive thinking removes all motivation to improve societies and living conditions. External conditions are almost always dismissed by these gurus and charlatans.

    Reading Smile or Die, I was reminded of a horribly callous sermon in Japan, where the pastor extolled the benefits of frugality and unequivocally spoke out against materialism. For his example du jour, he cited victims of the Haiti earthquake and how "happy" they were. Really? Is that the best they can do? If I lost everything and everyone I held dear in an earthquake, smiling might be the only way I could cope. It most certainly would not be a sign of happiness or satisfaction after going through such a grueling natural disaster.

    Positive thinking has a horrible dark side that would lead to the instant dismissal of any doctor who prescribed positivity in lieu of radiotherapy for cancer. As anyone with any experience with the bile that Pollyannas spew forth on a daily basis, one of their implied mantras is "if you fail, it's your own fault." Spare me, please. On a personal note, I particularly enjoyed Barbara's mention of the Despair website, built around the idea of counter-optimism with its Demotivational line of posters, mugs, plaques, etc.

    The author's research is impeccable. She unearths the deadly, fatalistic roots of positive thinking that came from the Calvinist branch of Christianity. Every word is enlightening and well worth reading.

    Barbara ends this book with a clarion call to reason, citing some of the most cruel, heartless and ignorant consequences of positive thinking, including that of Rhonda Byrne, who claimed that tsunamis could only happen to those who are "on the same frequency as the event."

    Everyone who has been deceived by positivity listen to read this book.

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