Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
When I lived in Chicago in the Nineties, I used to listen to an AM radio station that broadcast nothing but recordings of motivational speakers all day long. The idea, as I understood it, was to provide a sort of service to the itinerant salesman, whom Barbara Ehrenreich describes as “lonely and wounded” but still required to “pick himself up and generate fresh enthusiasm for the next customer, the next city, the next rejection.” By listening to a string of these three or four minute pep talks, the city’s sales force would be able to psyche themselves up to face their next prospect.
As for the station’s content, it was pretty much unrelenting sunshine, megadoses of motivation; the main feature distinguishing the various speakers was the homemade theory or idea with which they had souped up the great American idea of positive thinking: Not just positive thinking but positive envisioning. Happy Bible verses. Tricks to make yourself seem like an optimistic person. Words whose letters actually stood for other words that, taken together, were really, really awesome.
Positive thinking is one of those things that you either embrace enthusiastically or else dismiss as a harmless form of escapism, as benign as the Top 40 songs they’re playing on the next station over and just as formulaic. After all, how can you object when someone advises you to direct your feet to the sunny side of the street? (more…)