Cheer Up It Might Never Happen

Good interview with Barbara Ehrenreich on Democracy Now!

Author Barbara Ehrenreich on “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America”

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the research. I think that’s going to surprise people, what you just said. I mean, years ago, you were in biology. You were at Rockefeller University.

BARBARA EHRENREICH: Oh, yeah. No, I—and here it finally came in useful. I think there’s a widespread idea—it sounds so familiar that, you know, you would, you know, just let it go right by you—which is that your immune system will be boosted if you are thinking positively. Well, there’s not a whole lot to that. There’s not a whole lot to support that. And furthermore, more to the point here, it’s not clear that the immune system has anything to do with recovery from cancer or with whether you get it in the first place. Now, I had—I guess I had kind of accepted those things, too. But that is the ideology, though, that you find in so many other areas of American life, too, that if you—you can control things with your mind, if you just have the right thoughts and attitudes. There is nothing in the material world that’s causing your problem; it’s all within you.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And how did this ideology, this positive thinking movement, become so pervasive in American society? You document its rise in the culture.

BARBARA EHRENREICH: Yeah, well, I go back to the nineteenth century, because I’m always interested in history. But it really began to take off in a very big way in about the ’80s and ’90s, because the corporate world got very interested in it, got interested in it during the age of downsizing, because it was a way to say to the person who was losing his or her job, just as you would say to the breast cancer patient, “This is in your mind. You know, you can overcome this. If you—if something bad has happened to you, that must mean you have a bad attitude. And now, if you want everything to be alright, just focus your thoughts in this new positive way, and you’ll be OK.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have read people who have lost their jobs in this recession in the newspaper saying, “But I’m trying so hard to be positive.” Well, maybe there’s no reason to be positive. Maybe you should be angry, you know? I mean, there is a place for that in the world.

From all this negativity I can only conclude she hasn’t been introduced to Tony Quinn yet.

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