Is Positive Thinking a Bunch of Hooey?

I will definitely need to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s newest book. Not only is she one of my favorite political writers, but now she is delving into cultural criticism related to the mental health field’s relentless pursuit of “positive thinking.”

Newsweek’s Julia Baird provides a short review:

[…] In her new book, Bright-Sided: How Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, Barbara Ehrenreich calls positive thinking a “mass delusion.” She argues that an unrelenting drive to train our brains to overlook problems and blame ourselves for failures has blinded us to inequality, incompetence, and stupidity.

The philosophy of positive thinking, she argues, developed both as a reaction to the negativity of Calvinism and a salve for the sick and anxious, but has, over time, been turned into a kind of blind optimism. At the heart of positive thinking is a belief that you can will anything you like into happening: recovering from cancer, getting a promotion, becoming a millionaire. Often, the worse things are, the more vehemently people are encouraged to be sunny. The more companies downsized and restructured in the ’80s and ’90s, the more popular affirmation-chanting, team-building consultants became. And all the while, as the country’s wealth shot up, the gap between rich and poor ballooned.

While positive thinking does not equal behavior change, I do sometimes encourage my clients to actively envision their future in positive terms. Doing so helps you to realize what you are striving for and what you want in life, and possibly how to get it. I do not think it causes things to magically come your way, but I think it can be a therapeutic and useful exercise.

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