Barbara Ehrenreich: Smile or Die

I just finished washing watching (!) the RSA Animate version of journalist and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich’s talk on the perils of positive thinking. It came out a year ago, but I found it as relevant now as then. We’re still not out of the economic crisis; positive psychology has continued to gain strength.

The ideological side of positive thinking, of how it morphs into suppression and denial, a happy face for everything, is what Ehrenreich discusses, encompanied by the delightful illustrations of Cognitive Media.

Is there something wrong with a society that tells us we can have what we want if only we focus hard enough, adopt a relentlessly positive outlook, and really, really hope for it? What kind of example does the plethora of self-help books and motivational speakers set in a practical world of markets, job losses and random, unpredictable events? Does our self-analysing, “think positive” therapeutic culture prevent us from approaching problems by banding together in a practical and efficient way? Can change in the world really be brought about by such an individualistic and self-directed approach?

You can see the original talk by Ehrenreich here, which presents a longer version of the same talk, including a discussion of breast cancer and the pink ribbon culture. And of course you can find many more delightful things over at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce.

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