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Bamboozeled by Bright-siding

Americans Lash Back against Positive Thinking

Americans have been bamboozled by bright-siding1. We’ve been falsely led to believe that positive thinking will save us from all harm. Our generation has been duped into thinking that we can (indeed must) stay young forever, maintain perfect health, have it all, visualize our way to success, get rich, and enjoy 15 minutes of fame. To this end we have diligently followed expert advice, nurtured our bodies, worked like zealots, banished self-doubt and affirmed our inner strength. But a creeping suspicion is growing that maybe, just maybe, we’ve been blind-sided by a cruel hoax. Gasp—have we been fed a fairy tale?


Our bodies are breaking down despite a fervently healthy lifestyle, financial security is infuriatingly illusive, our work is, after all, just a job, and no matter how hard we try to build the perfect marriage or attract the ideal mate, we’re lucky to enjoy a merely flawed relationship. Let’s face it, our blind faith in optimism is giving way to the seditious skepticism of lowered expectations.

Most readers, understandably, will recoil in repudiation of such a sacrilegious indictment of American dogma. Surely she must be joking, they think, or in denial, a loser, or very depressed. To question the doctrine of positive thinking is tantamount to treason, and the impulse to silence such heresy is mighty. Yet a swelling chorus of nay-sayers are bravely risking rebuke to speak the truth…We’re sick of being told to look on the bright side. Sometimes life actually sucks.

Photo by Susan Perez

It’s time for a healthy dose of realism. Out with the onerous canon of optimism, and make way for a liberating dose of cynicism. Don’t worry, allowing pessimism a modest foothold will not lead to the demise of humankind as we know it. The backlash against bright-siding is a refreshing antidote to the tyranny of forced cheerfulness and constant self-improvement.  It is a much-needed counterweight to fanatical Pollyannaism.

As we enter the post-positive era, no longer will we need to whisper I’m not sure I can do this. It will be OK to say “I feel bad,” “It was a failure,” and “Nothing is perfect.” We will be free to cast off the shackles of incessant contentment.  Dark thoughts will no longer induce guilt and self-recrimination.  We will be emancipated from exhortations to Smile, Count Your Blessings, Beat the Odds, and Imagine the Glass Half-full.

Our deliverance from bright-siding will have far-reaching benefits to ourselves and society. Unchained from compulsory self-improvement, we will be happier and have more time for humanitarian pursuits. Acceptance of imperfection in everything will assuage our pervasive fear that something is terribly wrong in the world (and if only we could figure out who to blame and punish for it things could be set straight).  We would not need to continually witch-hunt for evil culprits who are spoiling paradise.  Hallelujah, May the back-lash flourish!

1 Ehrenreich, Barbara (2009). Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. New York: Picador.


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