Positivity Ain’t All It’s Pumped Up to Be

Matt Marshall

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, by Barbara Ehrenreich (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009, ISBN 978-0-8050-8749-9) 256 pp. Cloth $23.00.

Barbara Ehrenreich dedicates her latest book, Bright-sided, “To complainers everywhere,” entreating them to “Turn up the volume!” But the book that follows this emphatic call to arms is far from a vitriol-laced rampage against sunny, happy people. Rather, it’s a careful, studied dissection of the “positive thinking” movement that pervades and, as Ehrenreich has it, infects the American landscape, obligating “all good citizens” to smile and project positivity through life’s bad turns, even though such posturing has not been shown to make us any happier and, in fact, has driven us individually and as a culture into many a yawning cavern wrenched open by wishful thinking.

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