Friday, November 6, 2009

happiness :(

Barbara Ehrenreich my favorite writer on the dark side of the American dream, has a new book out. "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, published by Metropolitan Books.  When I passed  by Book Court, and saw it in the window, I thought; Christ.  At last.  I thought I was the only person that got depressed every time I watched a special on public television.  By a  motivational speaker.  Exhorting us poor slobs to improve our lives, increase our wealth, live forever, and totally be at peace.  I also got depressed when I read a self-help magazine.  The message was always a version of: think positive. Initially I would judiciously note all the things I should be doing and thinking in the pursuit of positive thinking, but an hour later, I just needed a pint of chocolate ice-cream or a drink.   Or both.

According to Ehrenreich, in an interview on, the whole movement of positive thinking got its start in corporate America.  During a cycle of lay-offs.  Motivational speakers were hired.  Preach a message of wealth and prosperity, and the power of positive thinking.   Soon, according to Ehrenreich, "Positive Thinking became the ideology of the business world in America." When she had breast cancer, she felt "oppressed  by the feel-good aspects of the culture."  

We can't grieve, we can't mourn, we can't be depressed, we can't be sorrowful, we can't be angry, anxious, edgy, tired.  Getting nervous at a party, especially if we don't know anyone, which is completely normal, completely human---  has been  pathologized;  social anxiety disorder.  And guess what?  You can take a pill and cure it.   You can always feel good.  You don't ever have to feel bad.  And if you do feel bad, it is your own fault.  You just have to think positive.

This is the message we hear.  This is the message I hear.  How am I standing in my own way?  How can I work harder to be happier?   What am I doing wrong?  Am I doing something wrong?  Why aren't I happier?  I should be happyEverybody else is. According to Ehrenreich, forced optimism, "..silences people and quells dissent."   Its embarrassing to be sad.  We never say that.  Or if we do, more often than not, we hear in response,
Think Positive.


  1. Me, too. I haven't read it yet, but I've read everything else by her. I can't wait. She's the master.