It seems to me that the author, Barbara Ehrenreich, wrote this book because of her frustrations with breast cancer. She starts the book off with her timeline of when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She then says that no matter where she turned to for advice on breast cancer, she would always get some type of positive advice or feedback.
She then went into detail on how Americans first became introduced to positive thinking. Next, she talked about positive thinking evolved from Calvinism. She calls “motivation” the product of positive thinking, and how companies are using it as a way to layoff people.
Next, she feels that Christianity started to embrace positive thinking. Pastors are now giving sermons on wealth, health, and success in life through the promise of salvation, there is no longer a hell. Pastors are also starting to use management consultants and gurus.
Then, psychologists started to embrace positive thinking, but called it positive psychology or the science of happiness. Martin Seligman created this term, but realized it needed to be broadened. He then started to call it positive social science.
She finishes the book saying that positive thinking is what has lead to the downfall of the economy, and that so many people start to “group think”. Americans started to form group cohesion, but still use some realism.
The Ten Things Managers Need to Know fromBright-Sided
1. Recent studies show that happy feelings flit easily through social networks, so that one person’s good fortune can brighten the day even for only distantly connected others.
2. Psychologists today agree that positive feelings like gratitude, contentment, and self-confidence can actually strengthen our lives and improve our health.
3. People who report having positive feelings are more likely to participate in a rich social life, and vice versa, and social connectedness turns out to be an important defense against depression, which is a known risk factor for many physical illnesses.
4. Negative thoughts somehow produce negative outcomes, while positive thoughts realize themselves in the form of health, prosperity, and success. Positive thinking is said to be well worth our time and attention.
5. Not only salespeople but other white-collar workers, IT people, engineers, and accountants are now increasingly found to be in need of motivation and its promised results.
6. High-level managers came to realize that they were no less expendable than anyone else.
7. At the top of the managerial hierarchy, CEOs forged a new self-image as charismatic leaders who could be counted on to have the right intuitions and gut feelings in a fast-changing world.
8. Like pop positive thinking, positive psychology attends almost solely to the changes a person can make internally by adjusting his or her own outlook.
9. The alternative to positive thinking is not, however, despair. In fact, negative thinking can be just as delusional as the positive kind.
10. In our daily lives, too, all of us, no matter how determinedly upbeat, rely on what psychologist Julie Norem calls “defensive pessimism” to get through the day.
Full Summary of Bright-Sided
Smile or Die: The Bright Side of Cancer
She starts off the book talking about when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Then she goes into embracing cancer. She talks about how everyone was positively embracing the disease. She quoted Cindy Cherry in the Washington Post as saying, “If I had to do it over, would I want breast cancer? Absolutely. I’m not the same person I was, and I’m glad I’m not. Money doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve met the most phenomenal people in my life through this. Your friends and family are what matter now.”
Websites, articles, books, oncology nurses, and fellow sufferers all said to keep a positive attitude. They believed it was essential for recovery. She talks about how she wrote an angry post on the Susan G. Komen website. She received several responses telling her she needed a positive attitude. Several others say that having cancer is like a gift. Ehrenreich says, “what it gave me, if you want to call this a gift, was a very personal, agonizing encounter with an ideological force in American culture that I had not been aware of before-one that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune, and blame ourselves for our fate.”
The Years of Magical Thinking
This chapter starts off about exhortations to think positively. She goes on to say that laid off people are told to embrace it as being an opportunity. This was also a type of cure that a person might only feel better during his or her job search, but actually bring it to a faster, happier, conclusion.
She goes on to talk about how there is no kind of problem or obstacle for which positive thinking or a positive attitude has not been proposed as a cure. She says, “The promise of positivity is that it will improve your life in concrete, material ways.” One success-oriented positive thinking site that she uses as an example to behavioral advice tells people to “smile”. She then poses a great question, “Who would want to date or hire a negative person?” People will fake their positivity, even to land jobs. So she says, “The trick, if you want to get ahead, is to simulate a positive outlook, no matter how you might actually be feeling.
The Dark Roots of American Optimism
Next, she tries to explain how Americans adopted optimism and positive thinking. She starts it off with explaining most people would think that Americans are the way they are because of the “new” world mentality. That mentality is that everyone became optimistic and positive thinkers because there would be opportunity and wealth in this “new” world for everyone. She then says, “But this is not how it all began: Americans did not invent positive thinking because their geography encouraged them to do so but because they had tried the opposite.
Instead, she blames Calvinism. She describes it as a system of socially imposed depression. Calvinism’s God was one who had limited seating in heaven. It was not until the early nineteenth century when people started to break away from Calvinism. Positive thinking was not launched until the 1860s by two metaphysician named Mary Baker Eddy and Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. Barbara Ehrenreich ends the chapter saying, “Positive thinking had ceased to be just a balm for the anxious or a cure for the psychosomatically distressed. It was beginning to be an obligation imposed on all American adults.”
Motivating Business and the Business of Motivation
This chapter talks about “motivation” and how it is the product of positive thinking. She talks about how most posters, calendar, coffee mugs, and desk accessories all have inspirational messages. Big corporations buy in to motivational gurus as a mean of social control in the workplace and as a way to get employees to perform at higher levels.
Later companies started to use motivational speakers to corporate meetings to manage “change”. By “change”,
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