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October 2010

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The (fantasy of the) Power of Positive Thinking

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Barbara Ehrenreich (of Nickel and Dimed fame) has written a good, if not always extremely interesting, book critically examining positive thinking and the demand that all people embrace it. I just finished it and wanted to recommend it to anyone looking for a fairly quick vacation read that is more than just a trashy novel.

Her overall thesis is not that positive thinking is BAD, but that the idea of positive thinking has been used to ignore potential dangers and look down upon those who are in pain or trouble. Essentially, those who espouse ideas like “The Secret” are not just suggesting that if you dream it, you can achieve it, but the opposite; namely, if something bad has happened, it is your fault for just not thinking positively enough.

She also spends time looking at the recent economic downturn and how positive thinking life coaches are brought into corporations after mass firings to ‘motivate’ the remaining employees to work even harder. She also discusses the desire for people to encourage those going through difficult times to “buck up” even though being upset may be a very valid emotional response.

To that end, in my opinion the first chapter is clearly the best one, as it focuses on the author’s experience with breast cancer and the culture surrounding the demand that cancer patients keep a positive attitude, lest they show signs of weakness or defeat. Perhaps because she was diagnosed with cancer and is able to articulate her feelings (as opposed to interviewing others or reading the work of others on the topic), this chapter is strongest.

If you get a chance, I suggest you pick it up at the library.

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