Daily Archives: July 31, 2010

Barbara Ehrenreich on too much positive thinking

Barbara Ehrenreich argues against excessive positive thinking.

Positive thinking usually has a, well, positive connotation.

That’s a position that’s sorely unearned, according to the skeptical and prolific Barbara Ehrenreich.  In her book, Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Ruined America, she holds positive thinking responsible for everything from bad health to the recent economic collapse from which we are still trying to emerge.

Ehrenreich’s first and perhaps most potent chapter describes her battle with breast cancer.  Far from finding it a source of new meaning, she felt anger and fear, among many other emotions.  Sharing these thoughts while taking a swipe at the ribbons people wear earned her a recommendation to run, not walk to therapy from one of the excessively upbeat people.  In this chapter she also takes on Bernie Siegel and others who maintain that good cheer can lead to better health outcomes, letting us know that she has a dusty science PhD. in the process.   She does score points with me in this chapter by talking about the strain that acting cheerful when you don’t feel that way can take.

From there she moves on to trace the history of positive thinking to its Calvinist roots.  Ironically, she maintains that the philosophy of positive thinking, which got its first popular boost from Norman Vincent Peale, carries with it many of the same judgmental elements of the Calvinism it sought to shed.

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