“Bright-sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich

Subtitle: How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America

Barbara Ehrenreich starts with the personal – her surprise at the mandatory positivity around her breast cancer diagnosis – and veers to the political – how delusional positivity contributed to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. In between, she gives a brief history of New Thought, Christian Science, business and life coaching, and positive psychology, with unsubtle negative digs at the people involved. She also draws connections between megachurch pastors and corporate CEOs.

I read this book with an odd mix of relief and defensiveness.

I completely agree that delusional positivity is frightening and unhelpful, and it’s a relief to see that clearly pointed out. She describes feeling alone in a big coaching seminar because no one else was acknowledging the misuse of quantum physics. I’ve been in that situation, wondering if I’m the only one in the room politely not laughing at the pseudo-science rather than eagerly swallowing it whole.

At the same time, a more grounded positivity has been helpful in my life. Asking “What am I doing right?” rather than “What am I doing wrong?” shifts my focus and allows me to see that, in fact, I am doing a lot of things right. I have benefited from a life coach’s services. My own work borders on coaching and sometimes involves helping clients shift their focus to positive aspects of their situations.

Overall, I enjoyed the beginning and ending of the book, but wished the middle held fewer judgments about various people’s appearance and “invalidism”. I hope people will heed her call to awareness, realism, and action, while maintaining hope that change is possible.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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