Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America by Barbara Ehrenreich

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This is a non-fiction book that I picked up at the Tattered Cover in Denver earlier this month; it is about how the relentless emphasis on being positive is just as bad as being relentlessly negative (if not worse), and I very much enjoyed reading this book.

This book covers a lot of territory, from cancer patients being told that being upbeat will improve their immune systems (no proof of that), to the “prosperity” megachurches that flat out tell people that if they believe good things will come to them, God will make sure of it (as if God was just a bigger version of Amazon.com), to companies firing people for not being “positive” in the face of layoffs, declining market shares, and bad business decisions, to encouraging people who had not enough savings under normal circumstances to take out house loans, since the housing market was just going to keep on improving and improving (it didn’t). Some of the positive thinking gurus and coaches go so far as to say that one should not watch or otherwise pay attention to the news because bad news will just bring you down (true…), and also that one should not try to correct social problems because one should be attempting to be happy with the way things are (wait a minute…).

The author ends her book with a section noting that what seems to be needed is a dose of realism – to always assume that things are great and will continue to be great is magical thinking. While there is nothing wrong with being a pleasant upbeat person (after all, no one likes the person who does nothing but complain), there are times when one needs to see that things are bad and will continue to be bad if nothing is done.

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