How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

Book - 2009 | 1st ed
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A sharp-witted knockdown of America's love affair with positive thinking and an urgent call for a new commitment to realism, existential clarity and courage.
Publisher: New York : Metropolitan Books, 2009
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780805087499
Call Number: 155.232 E334b 2009
Characteristics: 235 pages ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

With the mythbusting powers for which she is acclaimed, Ehrenreich exposes the downside of America's penchant for positive thinking. On a personal level, it leads to self-blame; on a national level, it's ushered in an era of irrational optimism resulting in disaster.

What if cancer isn't "the best thing that's ever happened to you", and your diagnosis doesn't fuel a desire for pink, bedazzled products? Whether you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist, Ehrenreich's essay on breast cancer speaks for cancer patients who feel pressure to exude h... Read More »

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Jun 14, 2017

The phenomenon of positive thinking has irritated me in a vague way for quite some time. Ehrenreich's book has given me a huge amount of background information about the culturally almost unquestioned "science of happiness." The whole book except for the last chapter describes the history and current status of what often seems like a cult of positive thinking. Who knew you could get a master's degree in positive psychology?

Ehrenreich carries the description through pop psychology, self-help genres, academia, business, religion and politics, not hesitating to depict the latter as the most pernicious of all the incarnations in totalitarian regimes where dissent is not permitted. She points out in the final chapter that the opposite of positive thinking does not need to be negative thinking but rather realistic thinking where problems can be freely identified and thus solved.

The book's dedication reads: To complainers everywhere: Turn up the volume!

Aug 05, 2013

Although I don't disagree with the gist of Ms. Ehrenreich's book, too often she is somewhat of a lightweight, ignoring the primary sources and therefore, more or less, still supporting the status quo. Those who promote positive thinking are the same sources who promote various fraud and the continuing structural inequality in America. Just go to and search for articles relating to Edward Bernays. (Reminds me of the activist, Antonia Juhasz, who constantly - - and justifiably - - rails agains Big Oil, while never mentioning who the owners of Big Oil actually are!)

Aug 05, 2013

The book is cynical, incomplete, a work of ignorance and presumption. I had much more to say, but this comment feature didn't save properly, my review was lost, and i'm not going to write my whole review all over again.

crankylibrarian Oct 15, 2011

Relentless optimism is bad for you, concludes veteran social observer Barbara Ehrenreich. Not just bad for individuals, but for employees, companies, the economy and theology. After surviving the horrors of breast cancer treatment, and the far more draining trauma of the, "cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me!" cheerleaders, Ehrenreich is fed up. Get real, she says. Poverty, illness,and injustice exist; they can't be wished away by positive thinking, the "laws of attraction" or mind over matter.Ehrenreich delves into historical strains of organized wishful thinking: from 19th century huckster Phineas Quimby and his disciple Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science; 20th century gurus Norman Vincent Peale, and Reverend Ike, up to current practitioners like Joel Osteen and _The Secret_ "discoverer" Rhonda Byrnes. Ehrenreich examines the pernicious effect of unrealistic optimism on the foreclosure crisis, and the cruelty inherent in telling sick or unemployed people that their misfortunes are all the result of their own "bad thoughts".I was powerfully reminded of the movie _Up in the Air_, when George Clooney convinces a newly downsized employee that getting fired is "the opportunity of a lifetime!" Riiiiight.As the daughter of a chronically ill and deluded Christian Scientist, I have my own bad memories of being told to do my (mental) work when sick, and believing my grandmother had died because I hadn't prayed hard enough. Although Ehrenreich lets her personal anti-conservative biases (which I share)influence the discussion, this is overall an enlightened, well-argued look at a disturbing strain of American thought.

Aug 27, 2010

I loved this book, it made me think. I'm not a pessimist but I've sometimes thought that positive thinking has run amuck with all kinds of methods at a small {ahem} price. The eye-opener is Norman Vincent Peale's, author of "The Power of Positive Thinking," was a huge success because of the book publishers decision to promote a plea to companies with on-the-road sales people to buy this for your sales staff or employees. It was the answer to the "lonely salesman" syndrome and I'm positive he helped for awhile. Irony is, Dr. Peale ended up being one of the lonely salesman by staying on the road doing seminars and book signings so much he missed his children's childhood. In a big way, America has been duped into thinking there might be something wrong with us if we don't think positive like everybody else. This was an eye-opener for me.


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