Maybe it is better to go through life with an upside down smile. And maybe not always choose the sunny side of the street. It is a critique of the multi-billion-dollar positive-thinking industry which runs the entire gamut of books,seminars, coaches and motivational speakers attracting all manner of hucksters, con artists, snake oil salesmen and potential Elmer Gantry’s. Mandatory optimism. Tossing caution to faith based emotionalism where physical reality is transformed through the power of thought. Its an alchemy of the mind. In essence, its a variant of what Harold Bloom calls The American Religion, a normative, faith based system of belief that marches to its own drummer and can improvise a ditty or two as the need arises. Think Joel Osteen. Or, Ronald Reagan’s campaign ad, “Its Morning in America Again” which parlayed positivism and Amercian exceptionalism into an ideology grafted onto American myth. Is all this positive vibration beaming just a form of nihilism. positive nihilism with messianic overtones? Waiting for that one mighty, sweeping act that will usher in a “new” utopia…
It began with what was called the New Thought Movement. And with it a new type of God, a god shorned of Calvinist fear and terror, a god that was envisaged as no no longer hostile and indifferent,passive-aggressive and non-present, but an all-powerful spirit whom the individual had merely to access the power to take control of the physical world and their lives. We can thank Mary Baker Eddy for bringing this into the mainstream and Edgar Bernays for tying positivism to freedom, liberty and the consumption of goods and services- such as cigarettes being torches of freedom. As a media industry, we can look back to Norman Vincent Peale which arose at the same time as the dissent industry was also forming, the critiques of mass society like Betty Friedan and Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring. All of which means that the positive thinking industry served to reinforce negativism.
…Middle-class women found this new style of thinking, which came to be known as the “laws of attraction”, particularly beneficial.
After reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World, I feel as if I can wallow in grief, gloom, disappointment or whatever negative emotion comes naturally without worrying that I’ve become that frightful stereotype, the curmudgeonly, grumpy old woman. Instead, I can be merely human: someone who doesn’t have to convince herself that every rejection or disaster is a golden opportunity to “move on” in an upbeat manner….
…I had long suspected that improved survival rates for women who had breast cancer had absolutely nothing to do with the “power” of positive thinking. For women diagnosed between 2001 and 2006, 82% were expected to survive for five years, compared with only 52% diagnosed 30 years earlier. The figures can be directly related to improved detection, better surgical techniques, a greater understanding of the different types of breast cancer and the development of targeted treatments. Ehrenreich presents the evidence of numerous studies demonstrating that positive thinking has no effect on survival rates and she provides the sad testimonies of women who have been devastated by what one researcher has called “an additional burden to an already devastated patient”….
…Pity, for example, the woman who wrote to the mind/body medical guru Deepak Chopra: “Even though I follow the treatments, have come a long way in unburdening myself of toxic feelings, have forgiven everyone, changed my lifestyle to include meditation, prayer, proper diet, exercise and supplements, the cancer keeps coming back. Am I missing a lesson here that it keeps re-occurring? I am positive I am going to beat it, yet it does get harder with each diagnosis to keep a positive attitude.”… Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jan/10/smile-or-die-barbara-ehrenreich
Despite Erhenreich’s negative experience with the ‘mandatory cheerfulness and optimism’ during her cancer treatment, several well-respected studies show that positive thinking can lead to better coping skills, decrease the risk for he
…“The Placebo effect is the best example to demonstrate that people’s mental attitude affects their physical health”, says Dr. Shah. “The effect makes patients believe that they get better by giving them a sugar pill and according to research the effect works up to 40 percent. Simply because the patientsthink they will get better, they get better.” Read More:http://christinaendresen.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/smile-or-die-the-industry-of-positive-thinking/
Such a vision admits no pessimism. At this week’s jobs summit, for example, Obama waxed lyrical about the unmatched inventiveness, hard work and efficiency of the American worker, notwithstanding the parlous state of the national economy. Boosterism in turn can spill over into that favourite conservative doctrine of American exceptionalism. Few US presidents fail to remind audiences that they belong to “the greatest nation on earth”.
But is it genuine optimism, or merely a way to avoid total despair? “Life’s a piece of shit/When you look at it,” runs another line from the Monty Python ditty. Unemployment may be at 10 per cent – but being laid off, according to positive thinking, is a terrific opportunity to rebuild your life. In another new movie here, Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a business traveller whose job is to sack people. He calls himself a “career transition counsellor”. Ehrenreich cites her own experience of coping with breast cancer, where “cuteness and sentimentality” were the order of the day during treatment, and the correct attitude for patients was “upbeat and even eagerly acquisitive”. Or take the cyclist Lance Armstrong, on record as saying that “cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me”.
In theory, the current economic slump, a massive wake up call to the country, should put positive thinking to its greatest test. But the mindset will surely survive. During the Great Depression, one of the bestsellers of the era was Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, who also served as an adviser to President Franklin D Roosevelt. More than 70 years on, the book is still very much in print. Read More:http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/rupert-cornwell/rupert-cornwell-what-monty-python-taught-uncle-sam-1835055.html