Thursday, February 27, 2014

February Reading

Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World (2009 Granta Books) by Barbara Ehrenreich

I reserved this book at the library after hearing Ehrenreich interviewed by Kim Hill on National Radio'sSaturday Morning programme.

Ehrenreich came up with the idea for this book after being diagnosed with breast cancer and finding herself engulfed by insistence on cheerfulness, positive thinking, and on denying any and all 'negative' feelings such as fear or anger.

She explores the way positive thinking has become virtually a new religion. The rise of positive and magical thinking in all its guises - The Secret, Law of Attraction, Norman Vincent Peale, personal coaching, corporate coaching - is explored, along with its origin in the rejection of the dour, fear-filled  Calvinism and protestantism that defined past generations of America.
Ehrenreich  examines the science of positive thinking and finds it wanting - there is, for example, some data which shows positive thinking can enhance your immune response to a cold, but none that shows an effect on cancer, despite all the hype.

She has chapters which deal with the way positive thinking has taken over cancer support, churches, business, psychology, and even led to the destruction of the economy in 2008.

She sums up by saying that she is not proposing negative thinking, but realistic thinking, based on science, logic, and indeed, common sense (which in my opinion is not actually very common.)

A quote from the book: It's true that subjective factors like determination are critical to survival and that individuals sometimes triumph over nightmarish levels of adversity. But mind does not automatically prevail over matter, and to ignore the role of difficult circumstances - or worse, attribute them to our own thoughts - is to slide toward the kind of depraved smugness Rhonda Byrne expressed when confronted with the tsunami of 2006. Citing the law of attraction, she stated that disasters like tsunamis can happen only to people who are "on the same frequency as the event."

And a recommendation from Christopher Hitchens from the back cover : Unless you keep on saying that you believe in fairies, Tinker Bell will check out, and what's more, her sad demise will be your fault! Barbara Ehrenreich scores again for the independent-minded in resisting this drool and all those who wallow in it."

I highly recommend this book, which I did not find at all negative, but rather, a relief. Have a listen to the podcast linked above too.

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