Saturday, September 04, 2010

Book review: Smile Or Die

Smile Or Die - How Positive Thinking Fooled America & The World by Barbara Ehrenreich

Smile Or Die is the European title of Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, which is a more clever title in my opinion (given the clear references to "Blind-sided"), but not necessarily a better title.

In her book, Ehrenreich takes on the positive thinking industry, explaining the history behind "positive thinking", how it is used, and how it is harmful.

Ehrenreich first got into contact with the positive thinking movement when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, or at least, first got really aware of it. This lead her to investigate the movement, or industry as it really is, and try to understand its effect on society.

Living outside the US, I haven't felt the full blunt of the positive thinking movement, but even in Europe, it has gained some foothold, and I definitely enjoyed Ehrenreich's take on it, especially the chapters on the historical background and how it is used (e.g. as a way for the companies to get rid of fired employees without guilt). Her chapters on the movement's effect on society, was on the other hand, a bit weak, though they still gave food for thought.

One part of the book I found really interesting was the part where she explained how the megachurches in the US were based upon the positive thinking movement. I hadn't thought about it that way before, but it definitely makes sense. The whole concept of the prosperity gospel definitely plays into all that.

For a good introduction to the content of the book, I recommend RSA Animate - Smile or Die, which is an animated (and abbreviated) version of a speech by Barbara Ehrenreich.

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