Do you believe that anything you want will be yours if you just upgrade your attitude? Do you think that you can attract money, happiness, and love just by rearranging how you look at the world? Do you — like millions of people around the country — love Deepak Chopra, believe in The Secret, and think that the universe gives back to you exactly what you give it?
If so, then we suggest you steer clear of Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. In it, she argues that our national obsession with positive thinking might actually be making us stupider, and perhaps worse, sadder. Depressed: Forget Pills. Try Sex?
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We know what you're thinking, Andrew Weil adherents: How can there be anything wrong with positivity, even if it is manufactured, packaged, and marketed in 5-CD sets and Learning Annex seminars? Isn't positivity better than negativity any day of the week regardless of how it permeates into our lives? The Secret To A Happy Marriage?
We're not so sure. As Ehrenreich sees it, the positive attitude movement can lead to disasterous results — partly because it is so intent on seeing "the glass half full, even when it is shattered on the floor." Thus, it might lead you to believe that if you just change your attitude, you can go from being hurt and bothered by your husband's abuse and cheating to being grateful for the fact that you even have a husband.
At the same time, manufactured positivity — because it is so internal, so intently focused on realligning one's thinking — places a greater value on attitude than on action. In turn, rather than leave your cheating, abusive husband, you might feel more inclined to change what energy you're putting out into the universe.
And if things just get worse from there — if your husband breaks your leg, or perhaps he gives you some incurable STD — you have to believe that you deserved it, because the universe only gives back to you what you give it. Attitudes, unfortuately, cut both ways.
Ehrenriech concedes that yes, positivity can, in a "simple, practical sense" improve one's life. After all, "if you are 'nice' people will be more inclined to like you than if you are chronically grumpy, critical, and out of sorts."
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But if we are trying so hard to be positive, isn't the bigger, sadder issue underneath all the inspiration boards and personal affirmations that we're not? And that maybe, as Ehrenreich suggests, our relentless pursuit of happiness is just making things worse?
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