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Is America too happy for its own good?

Author Barbara Ehrenreich takes on positive thinking

Created date

February 15th, 2010
YLi0210_AmericaTooHappy2
YLi0210_AmericaTooHappy2

In a time when many industries are cutting costs and tightening their belts, the self-help industry is not only surviving the recent economic downturn, it s thriving. Americans can t seem to get enough of all those books, DVDs, and seminars promising health, wealth, and inner bliss. [caption id="attachment_7532" align="alignright" width="200" caption="(File photos; Illustration by Gerry Fey)"]Consequences of too much positivity [caption id="attachment_7529" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Bright-Sided takes a hard look at the history of positive thinking in America. (Photo by Michele Harris)"][/caption] While Ehrenreich is not advocating depression or negative thought, she does feel that her book offers people a validation of their own negative impulses. Feeling bad about certain things is natural and in some cases even healthy. Given the feedback she s gotten from readers, it seems that her message is one they are happy to hear. I am very amazed at the response to my book, she says. I was expecting to be attacked all over the place as a Grinch. But that s not the case. The most common response I get is, Thank you! Somebody finally said it. And then they go on to tell a long story about how they were oppressed by mandatory optimism, either in the workplace or perhaps when they were suffering from an illness. Or even bereavement. On a larger scale, Ehrenreich believes that the insistence on positive thinking is to blame for the nation s inability to project the damage Hurricane Katrina would inflict or see the coming implosion of the nation s financial system. I always assumed the corporate world was rational, focused on numbers and the bottom line. And the biggest surprise to me, and I kept drawing back from it until I was totally convinced, is how much the American corporate culture has been overtaken by delusionary positive thinking. And I argue that it played a big role in the financial meltdown of 2008. Asked if she believes the positivity bubble will burst anytime soon, Ehrenreich says she thinks its coming but hasn t seen any evidence of that yet. All I ask for, she says, is realistic thinking. michele.harris@erickson.com

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