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

ABC News: Growing up, my dad was a cookware salesman and he was big on motivational speakers, and he certainly introduced me to the book, "Where Is My Cheese?" that you bring up.

Ehrenreich: "Who Moved My Cheese?"

ABC News: Excuse me, "Who Moved My Cheese?" Can you tell me about these motivational speakers?

Ehrenreich: Motivational speakers are a-- It's been a growing industry since the age of layoffs, when corporations got more and more interested in bringing people in to sort of control -- not control, but attempt to control -- the moods of employees and make them adjust to the fact that they are so disposable in today's economy. There are all kinds of people, you don't need any license or anything like that to be a motivational speaker. I could be a motivational speaker if I wanted to, I guess. And it's, probably the United States is the biggest manufacturer of motivational speaking. No doubt about it. And we send them all over the world. We have exported them all over the world. And the really big names would be people -- like Tony Robbins, I guess, that would be one of the biggest names. And these guys, they can earn tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop for speaking to a corporate audience. And at the same time, they sell their books, their DVD's, their I-don't-know, whatever little products they're selling.

Forcing Yourself to Always Appear Positive

ABC News: So what's wrong with trying to tell people to think positively if they're in a rut?

Ehrenreich: I think sometimes that people are in a rut and can get into a negative thinking mode where everything is going to turn out bad [and might think] "Why try in the first place you're not going to enjoy anything?" But that's not the alternative to positive thinking. The alternative is not to be in either of those states. But I'm going to make a radical proposal here that we try a little realism -- not how you see the world be totally dominated by either your fears or your wishes, but try to figure out what's really going on, and then how do we intervene in some way to make things better, to make conditions better for people?

ABC News: This is quite a lightning rod. Does this scare you at all to do? Or is it totally easy for you?

Ehrenreich: No, this book actually was a little bit scary at the outset. I've never been afraid to take on a controversial topic, but this time I felt really alone. How could I be against something that seemed so pervasive and ubiquitous? But ... I did a positive thing here: I pulled together a little group like a support group for myself of people who were also critical -- mainly academics, mainly university people who had been researchers who were looking into the biology of this. The guy who found that mood and attitude has nothing to do with whether you recover from cancer, he's one of my little group. And that made an enormous difference to me, to have these people to consult and get together with now and then and share work with.

ABC News: Is there any denying that real true joy in life could bring better things? If you're happy about something, perhaps you feel better. If you're fighting off a cold and you're happy, that might seem easier. Or is that all just gobbledygook?

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