Barbara Ehrenreich Tackles Positive Thinking in New Book, 'Bright-Sided'

Ehrenreich: I think that there are two problems with this culture of positivity. One is it's kind of delusional that you're not allowed to think bad things. This led or contributed to the financial meltdown of 2008. People in the workplace, including financial companies, including major corporations, were not allowed to say, "I've got a problem here, I'm worried." Like the head of the real estate of Lehman Brothers in 2006 went to the CEO and said, "I think this is a housing bubble and that we're going to be in big trouble soon if we don't change our business model in some way." He was fired then for being negative. And this happened throughout on Wall Street. People were never supposed to say a negative thing, to be a bummer. So we went into that crisis completely bright sided, not seeing reality because we were so, so many of us were so committed to this positive-thinking notion that everything is fine, everything is going to come out well. And we also encouraged people to take on debt that they really couldn't manage -- I mean companies as well as individuals. But that idea that, "Oh, it's all going to be OK. I might as well seize this opportunity." -- it's gotten us into a lot of trouble.

Happiness and the Recession

ABC News: So looking back at the recession that we're currently in and the elements that caused it: It's just that nobody on Wall Street would be taken seriously before the market crashed that had anything negative to say?

Ehrenreich: I have talked to and interviewed some Wall Street insiders for this book and they said you could not say a negative thing. You could not be the bearer of bad news to the boss. Your job was to make the boss feel happy and comfortable and to stroke him. Just nothing should interrupt this wonderful fantasy of how things are all going to turn out alright. It was kind of like a magical thinking that gripped America right up to the fall of 2008.

ABC News: Do you see that we're still in that even though we're in some trouble?

Ehrenreich: Well, what is going on now is kind of shocking to me. In some ways, its increased, that the idea that we can all get out of this if we could just be optimistic now. OK, Wall Street is doing fine [but] most Americans are not doing fine. We've never had unemployment this high, in my lifetime anyway. There's a lot of suffering out there. And the message is always just, "Swallow it, suck it up and put on a smiley face and do not descent, complain, protest or whatever."

ABC News: One of the chapters is called, "God Wants Me to Be Rich." Can you tell me about that?

Ehrenreich: Well, one of the areas of life that, surprisingly, positive thinking has crept into in the '90s and '00s is evangelical Christianity, which I kind of associated before with people like Jerry Falwell and real fire-and-brimstone-type guys. But in the last decade or so, the mega churches have flourished, and the mega churches feature nothing but positive thinking. You can go into one of these places, as I did for the research: There's no crosses, there's no pictures of Jesus because that would be a bummer. That would be a downer, having to think about suffering and sacrifice and things like that. So it's all about how you can have great stuff because God wants you to have good stuff if you will only visualize it and give God clear orders of exactly what you want.

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