I desperately wanted to love Barbara Ehrenreich's new book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.
Scratch that. Halfway through, I was hoping I could just finish Bright-Sided. This hurts me very badly to admit, because, from reading the jacket copy on this one, I REALLY wanted to love it: "Americans are a 'positive' people--cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: this is our reputation as well as our self-image. But more than a temperament, being positive is the key to getting success and prosperity. Or so we are told. In this utterly original debunking, Barbara Ehrenreich confronts the false promises of positive thinking..."
This is, or should have been, the book I was born to read.*
So I was very, very disappointed to find that, for much of it, I was just kind of bored. I found Ehrenreich's first chapter, on how she was diagnosed with breast cancer and immediately told that the best thing she could do would be to "stay positive" (and wear pink ribbons and attend breast cancer fundraising events), quite interesting. I could definitely see her point that that was a rather annoying thing always to be told, and I could certainly understand how sometimes she did just want to feel like she got a raw deal, and cancer sucked--rather than believing she got it for a purpose or it would make her a stronger person. But in subsequent chapters, about the history of positive thinkers (such as Norman Vincent Peale and Mary Baker Eddy), the business of motivational speakers and publishing, the linking of positivity, megachurches, and the belief that "God wants you to be rich," I just got sort of lost. I can't tell if it's because Ehrenreich took too long to say what she had to say in most chapters, or if I just wasn't responding to the organization of the chapters.
I did perk back up for the "How Positive Thinking Destroyed the Economy" chapter, which made several good points about how, when things are going good in the finance business, no one wants to sound any alarms because a) no one wants to get fired, and b) no one wants to be the one putting a damper on the party, or encouraging more cautious strategies and gains. I think she had a lot of good things to say in that chapter, and she said them. I also found the chapter on megachurches and Joel Osteen quite informative, if not creepy. Actually, my favorite story in the book is the one in which the megachurch minister Osteen and his wife Victoria gave thanks at one of their services for the dismissal of charges against Victoria for assaulting a flight attendant:
"The incident occurred in 2005, when they boarded the first-class cabin of a flight bound for Vail, the ski resort, only to leave--or be thrown off--the plane after Victoria raised a fuss over a small 'stain' or 'spill' on the armrest of her seat. She demanded that the flight attendant remove the stain immediately, and when the flight attendant refused because she was busy helping other passengers board, Victoria insisted, allegedly attempting to enter the cockpit and complain to the pilots. Victoria ended up paying a $3,000 fine mposed by the FAA, and the matter would have ended there if the recalcitrant flight attendant had not brought suit demanding 10 percent of Victoria Osteen's net worth in compensation for alleged injuries, including hemorrhoids and a 'loss of faith' due to her mistreatment by a leading evangelist." (p. 130.)
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to meet and shake the hand of the flight attendant who had the chutzpah to sue the Osteens and cite hemorrhoids as her injury.
So, does this review sound all over the place? It is, I know. But frankly, that's a little how I felt about the book. And any book that's only 206 pages long (another reason I wanted to love it) shouldn't be either boring or all over the place. I guess I'm still waiting for someone to write a better book on this subject that is near and dear to my heart.
*I have been reprimanded in so many work situations for "negative thinking"--usually when I was simply asking some pretty simple workflow questions--that I have lost count.