Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
by Barbara Ehrenreich
I usually love Ehrenreich and was thrilled when I spotted "Bright-sided" at the library last week. Maybe I had inappropriate expectations, but I disliked most of her book and I feel her introduction and title were misleading. I had several issues with this book.
For starters, her cynicism regarding others' reactions to breast cancer. While I'm with Ehrenreich and would be angry if this happened to me, not to mention driven crazy by overly-optimistic people, every person has a right to experience illness and trauma in their own way. You do what you need to do to get through the day, and as long as you deal with the fact of the illness, why not re-explore or reinvent your life and attitudes? Yes, it's erroneous to say that being positive will help recovery, but making the best of a bad situation can be emotionally healing. Also, a near-death or a loved one dying often makes an individual reevaluate what they care about in life. I don't think this is a bad thing.
Next, her seemingly unending focus on the positive thinking movement. I feel this could have been reduced to a chapter. Yes, the positive thinking movement is pretty stupid and illogical, and has nothing to do with physics. But tearing apart every single conference and positive thinking icon was tedious and unnecessary.
In this portion of the book, Ehrenreich also attacks using motivational speaking and coaching, and I have to disagree with her. Having grown up in a household where we were taught to set goals and make plans on how to reach them, to "dream big," (although not unrealistically), I find goal-setting a very valuable tool in my financial and mental life, and in my career path. Coaching can be a valuable tool in building a business and sharing ideas with others. This is different from motivational speaking that ignores situation/limitations, realistic goals, and focuses on being able to get anything you want just by wanting it.
All of this said, I really LOVED how Ehrenreich wrapped up "Bright-sided." Her final thoughts on how positive thinking played a significant role in America's mistakes in the Iraq war and the financial meltdown and housing crash in 2008. THIS is what I wish she would've spent more time thinking about and investigating. What can we do to prevent this from happening again? What were the steps that lead to these decisions? How does positive thinking ACTUALLY harm us as Americans (this is really what I thought her book would be about, after reading the title of the book, and all), and what would a healthy dose of realism do to our country and economy?