Review: Smile or Die, by Barbara Ehrenreich

I got Barbara Ehrenreich‘s Smile or Die (or as it also seems to be titled – Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America) about a year ago, after having seen it mentioned in the morning paper. Her Nickel and Dimed left a favourable impression on me and I thought that well, why not.

This too turned out a good read. The story starts as she is diagnosed with breast cancer, about ten years ago. She started to search the nets for information, and tried to find some kind of support group. Instead she ended up finding a lot of stuffed Breast Cancer teddy bears and peddlers of the Be Positive And It Will Go Away; will-power as a supplementary immune system.

In the book she uncovers the historical background in 19th century New Thinking, its connections with Depression Era positive thinking gurus and the try to find scientific backing for the idea that just thinking about money makes them come to you (so if you’re poor you’re just not good at focussing your thoughts… right?). She follows with looking at how the forced, delusional, positive thought movement found a footing in a reality where ever more people lost their jobs to down-sizing; the corporate world using it to make the employees left work ever the harder, the individuals using it as a way to make the day seem brighter than it is.

The last part of the book looks at how a faith in positive thought brought the the US economy to the brink of bankruptcy, and summarises with stating that to get truly happy you need to reach out in the real world, to try to change what makes you unhappy; that you need to face and analyse what is wrong before you can make it right – the opposite of the introspective solipsism the positive thinking gurus promote.

I jibes well with my own view – of course, looking at the positive side helps but so do realism; no one gets happier by just trying to will away the truck heading for you on a crash course ;-)



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