Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On the bright side??

To be quite honest with you, I'm not feeling the positivity vibe that would help me to write a list of things I'm happy about and grateful for, though, I certainly do understand and appreciate the suggestion you folks made in your comments to my last post. Not to be a downer and all, but I wanted to mention this interview I watched online with one of my favorite authors, Barbara Ehrenreich, about a new book she's written called: Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. You can watch the interview at the Democracy NOW website.

In this interview, Enrenreich describes how, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she went looking for resources for women living with that illness, and found things that infantalized women, such as pink teddy bears given to patients, and writings that said cancer was caused by negative thoughts, and could be combated with the power of positive thinking. I totally understood her angst about this discovery, since I've been living with a chronic physical illness, which was totally debilitating for a few years, since I was 19 years old. I remember when I came across some writings by people like Deepak Chopra about how illness is created by one's thoughts, that these writings, frankly, pissed me off.

Ehrenreich argues that when you get a serious, life-threatening illness, which may be caused by toxins in the air or genetics, and not thoughts in your head, or when you lose your job because some corporate scheme destroyed jobs for people such as yourself and the economy's in the toilet, well, then, you have a right to be angry about the situation you're in. She says that anger, while considered horribly "negative" by the people who follow pop psychology, and those who write it, is actually, really, just a normal human emotion. I tend to agree.

In one particular statement she makes in this interview, I found great comfort as I feel the same way, and wrote the same thing myself, in a recent post here. She says that cancer is "not a gift", and not her friend, and not something she's grateful for. Wow, what a concept!! You don't have to be grateful that your life is entirely corrupted by a debilitating, life-threatening disease and you very well might die. You don't have to be HAPPY about that! Why aren't more people saying this? Why aren't more people just plain realistic about things?? I wonder....I think that Ehrenreich is really onto something here. I think blaming people for having negative thoughts that led to them getting cancer is stupid, heinous, and unacceptable, and I've been saying that for years. I have a real problem with people like Deepak Chopra, and the main reason I disliked him when I first came across his work was the fact that, while he blamed cancer victims for having thoughts that led to cancer, he, himself, has never even had cancer! So where does he get off accusing other people of being responsible for the fact that they had lousy luck and got a fatal disease??

I do believe people can have lousy luck. I'm not saying we aren't responsible for our general state of mind. I understand that cognitive behavioral therapy not only works well, but it works for me, and I do it all the time. I remind myself to look on the bright side, to not get into self-pity or complaining, to avoid dwelling on my problems, to not make people feel lousy by telling them everything that I might be miserable about, and to avoid people who want to dump their constant, incessant misery on me (as some people I know tend to do).

But what I'm talking about isn't cognitive behavioral therapy. It's the general idea that you can control everything in your atmosphere by choosing to think certain thoughts. I don't believe that's possible. I don't believe there is much scientific evidence that it is possible. I'd like to believe it's possible. I'd like to believe that everything in The Secret is real and true, and that all my wishes are in my own command. But I don't believe that.

I don't believe any of that nonsense. Neither does Barbara Ehrenreich, who is a person I respect.

I think sometimes people need to think more positively than they do. When I say this some of my own family members come to mind, as I know at least one person who is prone to constantly complaining about their miserable existence. I think you can choose to NOT constantly complain, or dwell on the negative things in life. I think you should choose to NOT do that. And so, to some degree, I guess I do believe there is power in positive thinking. I just think it's really overstated in pop psychology.

So I wanted to mention this here. I know some of you will disagree (probably adamantly). But I tend to believe that being a realist is more productive in life than dreaming of Utopia. I think people need to take the responsibility for creating the change they want to see in the world, and not just assume that it will magically happen because they chose to believe it would.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jen- I am not disagreeing just want to share my thinking...I guess I consider myself a positive thinker and the last line of this blog entry... "I think people need to take the responsibility for creating the change they want to see in the world, and not just assume that it will magically happen because they chose to believe it would" well said. I probably get on others nerves because of my attitude of postitive thinking but that's ok. I just choose to not dwell on the negative and believe me, I have plenty of negative to dwell on. My son who is living with a life long illness has the most awesome attitude and I know that helps me get through each day seeing him take life straight on and make the best of it. He has his negative moments but overall he has such an awesome outlook. HE is my hero and if I could, I would trade places with him if i could so he didn't have to deal with what he does. I am a "fixer" so it is so frustrating that I can't fix this.
    I choose to take the positive road.
    I understand where you are coming from. Your blog entry is sensitive to the struggles that life throws at us. I know I could get down but I can't. There are too many around me that are so I don't have that luxury. Sometimes I wish I could but the scary part is that what if I couldn't get back from letting the down take over... does that make sense? Anyway, I will say it again, I admire you so much, you have what i want my son to have, you give me hope for our future.
    I hope my positive-ness adds years to my life because I need to be here for a long time to come!
    I agree with you, the "bright side" is overated. I just get through each day one at a time.


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