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Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

Happy Faces: Get Real!

Intelligent conversations have been sabotaged more than once by people who "don't want my negativity." Finally someone speaks up to this air headed idiocy.

posted by 2564417 on December 27, 2009

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Most Helpful Critical Review

3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

Obvious Arguments Against the Power of Positive Thinking

Ehrenreich criticizes and makes fun of the positive thinking crowd in this book. That part is enjoyable to read and often humorous. And, it is very easy to do. I mean, come on, does anyone but the most easily manipulated people really believe that the "Law of Attraction...
Ehrenreich criticizes and makes fun of the positive thinking crowd in this book. That part is enjoyable to read and often humorous. And, it is very easy to do. I mean, come on, does anyone but the most easily manipulated people really believe that the "Law of Attraction" can really work in a direct way for you, and that by simply imaging success (or whatever it is that you want - a lover, a cure) for yourself, you can magically make it happen. Ehrenreich seems to believe that Americans have in large numbers accepted this clap-trap in some sort of deluded group-think. But, despite the fact that some charlatans have been able to become rich in part by selling this theory, there is nothing much to suggests that many people really swallowed the tonic wholesale.
I think that she her argument that the popularity of their self-help books, motivation coaches and some religious leaders was the major cause of the recent financial collapse of the economy is similarly quite thin on evidence. Since she takes positive psychology to task in this book for lacking scientific studies to support their theories, I would have thought that she would not claim that positive thinking has caused the "undermining" of America based only on a co-relation, some anecdotal stories and the similarly unsupported opinions of others.
While some corporations attempted to use positive thinking's approach to help the company's mission succeed financially, there is no reason to conclude that the corporation's top management were exercising it when they chose what the mission should be. Or, that their commitment to any business plan was influenced by a belief that they could have it work if only every employee believed it would.
Also, I think that she is mistaken to equate the feelings of opportunity that some people may have when faced with a great adversity in their personal life, whether it is a medical diagnosis such as cancer, getting laid off or experiencing some other devastating loss, with the delusional positive thinking that she rightly ridicules. When someone goes through a major change in their life, even one that also causes great personal pain and suffering, it seems to me to be reasonable to view that as an opportunity to question the assumptions that you had been living with and to rethink your priorities. It can make you realize what is really important and what is just veneer. This reminds me of the joy that people experience in the face of major societal disruption that Rebecca Solnit wrote about in A Paradise Built in Hell - The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. I would hope that Ehrenriech would not find it incorrect for people to experience these positive feelings in the face of great stress.
Finally, I was put off and must also comment on one small point that Ehrenriech makes. At pages 56-57, when noting that Reverend Will Bowen had distributed his purple anti-negativity bracelets in "schools, prisons and homeless shelters." Ehrenriech then wonders "how successful they have been in the latter two settings." This makes it seem that she is equating the residents of prisons and homeless shelters in ways that are not necessarily true. It is unclear exactly what her thinking is.

posted by BillPilgrim on May 14, 2010

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    Obvious Arguments Against the Power of Positive Thinking

    Ehrenreich criticizes and makes fun of the positive thinking crowd in this book. That part is enjoyable to read and often humorous. And, it is very easy to do. I mean, come on, does anyone but the most easily manipulated people really believe that the "Law of Attraction" can really work in a direct way for you, and that by simply imaging success (or whatever it is that you want - a lover, a cure) for yourself, you can magically make it happen. Ehrenreich seems to believe that Americans have in large numbers accepted this clap-trap in some sort of deluded group-think. But, despite the fact that some charlatans have been able to become rich in part by selling this theory, there is nothing much to suggests that many people really swallowed the tonic wholesale.
    I think that she her argument that the popularity of their self-help books, motivation coaches and some religious leaders was the major cause of the recent financial collapse of the economy is similarly quite thin on evidence. Since she takes positive psychology to task in this book for lacking scientific studies to support their theories, I would have thought that she would not claim that positive thinking has caused the "undermining" of America based only on a co-relation, some anecdotal stories and the similarly unsupported opinions of others.
    While some corporations attempted to use positive thinking's approach to help the company's mission succeed financially, there is no reason to conclude that the corporation's top management were exercising it when they chose what the mission should be. Or, that their commitment to any business plan was influenced by a belief that they could have it work if only every employee believed it would.
    Also, I think that she is mistaken to equate the feelings of opportunity that some people may have when faced with a great adversity in their personal life, whether it is a medical diagnosis such as cancer, getting laid off or experiencing some other devastating loss, with the delusional positive thinking that she rightly ridicules. When someone goes through a major change in their life, even one that also causes great personal pain and suffering, it seems to me to be reasonable to view that as an opportunity to question the assumptions that you had been living with and to rethink your priorities. It can make you realize what is really important and what is just veneer. This reminds me of the joy that people experience in the face of major societal disruption that Rebecca Solnit wrote about in A Paradise Built in Hell - The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. I would hope that Ehrenriech would not find it incorrect for people to experience these positive feelings in the face of great stress.
    Finally, I was put off and must also comment on one small point that Ehrenriech makes. At pages 56-57, when noting that Reverend Will Bowen had distributed his purple anti-negativity bracelets in "schools, prisons and homeless shelters." Ehrenriech then wonders "how successful they have been in the latter two settings." This makes it seem that she is equating the residents of prisons and homeless shelters in ways that are not necessarily true. It is unclear exactly what her thinking is.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Barbara Ehrenreich. Bright-sided. How the relentless promotion of positive thinking undermines America.

    Modern society nixes importance of philosophers and poets. Yet, in purely practical terms, without philosophers political discourse becomes incredibly shallow. And with poets reduced to drudgery in "liberal arts" colleges, the language of political debate becomes increasingly colorless and nasty. Politics is and always was a hyper-competitive business but for the observer of the Kennedy-Nixon exchange of 1960, there is a feeling of unbelievable deterioration of collective intelligence in recent times.

    Barbara Ehrenreich is one of the very few, may be the only remaining, SOCIAL PHILOSOPHER of distinction in America. She is the only person whom I know, who poses questions relevant for the everyday life. The so-called academic philosophy is sterile. Academic social science should better be called "applied statistical research." These things could be useful for budgetary planning-- how many public toilets with Wi-Fi access an average city must have-- but are irrelevant in the terms in which normal people comprehend the society.

    Her new book is not so daring and unusual in its treatment as "Nickel and dimed" and "For her own good". Yet, she identifies the 180 degrees turn in values, which has occurred in American Puritanism. While the pilgrims held the dim view of "institutionalized depression" (Ehrenreich's term), modern American outlook heavily influenced by the Southern Baptist culture of megachurches and the New Age, propagates superficially "sunny" concept of reality and the supernatural. Neither repentance, nor continual self-improvement are necessary. Salvation can be achieved by having "the right attitude." The opposite side of this worldview also with the roots in pilgrim Puritanism is that if one is unhappy and/or unlucky--all mostly understood in terms of material wealth--one is beyond salvation and must fake a positive attitude not to become an outcast.

    Kudos for Barbara! Keep up the good work!

    My other reviews can be viewed on oldpossumsbookreview.blogspot.com

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2011

    liked the words, hated the end-notes

    I am a huge Barbara Eherenreich fan, and have read several of her books, and jumped at reading Bright-sided. Now, my nook is new, so perhaps this is operator ignorance, but i couldn't figure out how to get to the end-notes until I finished the book. I HATE END-NOTES even in paper books. So, for the content, I give her book 5 stars, alas the frustration of end-notes brings it down to a 3 star. If you are one of those folks who never read foot/end-notes anyhow, it's a great read!

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