A few weeks ago, I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile Or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World (published in the US as Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America).
In Smile Or Die, Ehrenriech takes a critical look at positive thinking and how she feels it has distorted and even harmed many aspects of modern life. Some of it is personal, like Ehrenriech’s experiences during her cancer treatment that originally inspired her to write the book, but most of it looks at the bigger picture – for example, did the Global Financial Crisis stem in part from some looking too much at the bright side of life and completely ignoring the dark side?
Smile Or Die was very compelling and I tore through it quickly – not only was the subject matter very interesting, but Ehrenreich’s style was highly readable.
Yet, at the same time I was enjoying Smile Or Die, it was also making me feel uneasy. Why?
Since mid-2007 when I began therapy, my patterns of thinking have changed enormously. Before then, I used to think negatively about most things in life – and as a result, life sucked most of the time.
Medication has also been a big help because it has smoothed off the rough physical edges of depression, but learning how to think better has been very profound because it has made my life so much better.
As well during the past few years, I have developed a growing interest in self-help. This has led to some interesting listening, reading and viewing within the field (and far without), and as a result I have gained inspiration in varying degrees from such diverse figures as Michael Domeyko Rowland, Anton Szandor LaVey and Larry Winget.
No, I don’t walk around nowadays with a huge grin on my face all of the time – but I am certainly not walking around with my head up my arse like I used to most of the time.
But the more I read of Smile Or Die, the more I found myself becoming concerned.
Was Ehrenreich criticising only the excesses of positive thinking – or was she being critical overall? While some examples that Ehrenreich presented were very off-putting, like the cloying optimism she endured during her cancer treatment, I also felt at times that she was being too harsh on the entire concept of positive thinking.
Maybe I was over-reacting – but, positive thinking had certainly worked for me during the past few years. Instead of being the whinging and whining self-defeatist that I had been in the past, I was now facing the world with a much better outlook – I certainly didn’t want to go back to what I used to be!
Finally, I got to Ehrenreich’s postscript in Smile Or Die – and I relaxed.
Yes, positive thinking has a place, Ehrenreich says here – but so does negative thinking. Considering both the best and worst that could happen works well together because it makes for better planning – hope for the best but consider (not fear) the worst, and if the shit does hit the fan you’ll be prepared to avoid getting splattered.
Maybe I did over-react, after all – but Smile Or Die got me thinking, and like many other books I’ve enjoyed that’s why it’s stayed in my mind ever since.
Until next time, stay well and take care 🙂