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The Peril of Positive Thinking

Don't like the news because it's always glum? Well, quit thinking the glass is half empty. Hey, it's half full, chum, and it's going to get fuller. Somebody will come along and top it off for you. Just don't ask me who. As for the news, you can always change your attitude toward events by getting your daily dose of Happy News.

"Ever since psychologist Martin Seligman crafted the phrase 'learned optimism' in 1991 and started offering optimism training, there's been a thriving industry in the kind of thought reform that supposedly overcomes negative thinking. You can buy any number of books and DVDs with titles like Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude, in which you will learn mental exercises to reprogram your outlook from gray to the rosiest pink: 'affirmations,' for example, in which you repeat upbeat predictions over and over to yourself; 'visualizations' in which you post on your bathroom mirror pictures of that car or boat you want; 'disputations' to refute any stray negative thoughts that may come along. If money is no object, you can undergo a three-month 'happiness makeover' from a life coach or invest $3,575 for three days of 'optimism training' on a Good Mood Safari on the coast of New South Wales."

What more could you want? Hmmm, let's see--maybe a dose of reality.

"What makes you think unsullied optimism is such a good idea? Americans have long prided themselves on being positive and optimistic — traits that reached a manic zenith in the early years of this millennium. Iraq would be a cakewalk! The Dow would reach 36,000! Housing prices could never decline! Optimism was not only patriotic but was also a Christian virtue, or so we learned from the proliferating preachers of the 'prosperity gospel,' whose God wants to 'prosper' you. In 2006, the runaway bestseller The Secret promised that you could have anything you wanted, anything at all, simply by using your mental powers to 'attract' it. The poor listened to upbeat preachers like Joel Osteen and took out subprime mortgages. The rich paid for seminars led by motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and repackaged those mortgages into securities sold around the world." More from Barbara Ehrenreich

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