If you’ve never read something by social critic Barbara Ehrenreich, it might be time.
Her book Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America (2009), takes on subject matter that potentially divides many in the mental health field. There are those therapists who regularly advocate affirmations and the type of positive thinking that Ehrenreich calls “delusional” thinking; and there are those (of us) who prefer helping clients learn how to develop more rational thinking.
First, let’s look at how Ehrenreich got involved with this topic. As described by New York Magazine writer Kera Bolonik, this book “…was initially inspired by her resistance to the cancer-gives-my-life-meaning trope, which was inflicted on her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. She found that insistent, blind optimism is deeply ingrained in our nation’s psyche, especially in the realms of finance and national security.”
The review from author Nora Ephron:
It’s Ehrenreich’s belief that almost everything that’s wrong in this country comes from an addiction to positive thinking. She takes on all the hucksters who travel the country insisting that optimism will cure you, change your life and/or make you rich. She then proceeds to the economy and devastates all the people who were unable to conceive a crash might be possible. Ehrenreich convinced me so completely that I hesitate to say anything so positive as that this book will change the way you see absolutely everything; but it just might.
Michael Shermer, author of Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (1998):
The self-esteem/positive thinking/self-help movement has turned out to be one grand failed experiment in psychology. You can’t just tell people (or yourself) that they/you are esteemed, accomplished, and happy. You actually have to do something to earn the respect of others and yourself, and in the real world the doing also involves failure. In this hard-hitting but honest appraisal, America’s cultural skeptic Barbara Ehrenreich turns her focus on the muddled American phenomenon of positive thinking. She exposes the pseudoscience and pseudointellectual foundation of the positive-thinking movement for what it is: a house of cards. This is a mind-opening read.
The following video presents an interesting visualization of Ehrenreich’s spoken thoughts and beliefs on this topic, including how former U.S. President George W. Bush’s “cheerleading” style has harmed our nation’s well-being:
And if the above isn’t your cup of tea, here’s more than just a voice and visuals—it’s Ehrenreich showing us a more personal side on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: