Episode Information

WWL: What Are You So Happy About?
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
Share this Content

In this episode:

Taking on America's love affair with the power of positive thinking


Episode Audio

50:01 minutes (24.01 MB)
Download this Episode

It’s guaranteed in our Declaration of Independence: the right to pursue happiness. But that doesn’t make it mandatory, does it?

Happiness is this formerly elusive thing, which has been turned into a kind of a global commodity – with countries touting their “Gross National Happiness.”

But Barbara Ehrenreich says here in America, we’re spending too much time trying to talk ourselves into happiness.

Today, Where We Live, a conversation with the author, whose new book is called, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Ehrenreich is a long time observer of American culture and she worries that Americans are bombarded with the message that they should be happy all the time, even when, or especially when, they really shouldn’t be.

We’ll be joined by one of our favorite positive thinkers – The Hartford Courant’s Susan Campbell.

Related Content:

Listener Email from Jac

We aren’t always happy. We just aren’t. But, that should be okay. If a person can’t just turn disappointment and real sadness into a positive and happy mood, it shouldn’t be seen as a sign of failure or weakness. That’s part of the stigma related to depression.

As already noted, someone dealing with chronic or serious illness should have permission to go through their emotions in their own way. It is sad and horrible and unfair. Yet outsiders gravitate to those who look brave and happy, and highlight them. I think being sad and angry is brave, too, if it’s what’s true.

On the other hand, within horrible situations, there are sparkles of goodness and it can be helpful to look for those things to give a person hope.


Listener Email from Chris

Has your guest considered that there are a range of personality types among individuals, and that positive thinking may work VERY well for those whose baseline personality is positive, while those who are basically more negative - or curmudgeonly, or skeptical, or realistic (negative people have plenty of names for themselves) - do much better with a realism-based approach to life?

The best advice I ever recieved was on an audio seminar called "The Psychology of Self Esteem" hosted by Julie White. She said, there is an appropriate time to be both optimistic and pessimistic. Be optimistic in MOST circumstances, and it will reap benefits. Be pessimistic, however, when THE COST OF FAILURE IS HIGH. The example she used was, "Can I make it under the barrier and across the railroad tracks before the train comes?" This would be an inappropriate time to be optimistic - the cost of failure is DEATH. I cannot see, however, how being realistic about my own miserable work situation could yield positive results.

Your guest may make a very good point, but she strikes me as an affable curmudgeon who is simply irritated by the positive thinking of others. If she was a true realist, she would accept that positive thinking may not work for her, but if it works for other people, more power to them!

Listener Email from Ann

I have two comments. It has been shown that stress contributes to inflammation and inflammation contributes to cancer. So being able to control your stress level however, contributes to health. People can make themselves ill, I know I used to do it when I was young. I brought on tonsilitis and fever anytime I needed to take a day off from school.

I am a licensed professional counselor and I often observe individuals pursuing happiness-a relationship will "make" them happy, that new motorcycle will "make" them happy. Something outside them will "make" them happy. I advise them that happiness is an inside job and until we deal with what internally keeps us from being happy we're not going to be.

Remember, it WILL all work out in the end and if your not dead, it's not the end.

Listener Email from Terry

About ten years ago I was divorced, which was terrible for our family. Someone said to my daughter, who was about 20 at the time, that she should feel fortunate in her life because so many people were so much worse off - their dads had actually died, they were dying of diseases, they were paralyzed, etc. My daughter, I thought brilliantly, said, "Why should other peoples troubles ever make me feel better?"

the greatest country in the world

I wonder what you think about the constant references to the USA as the "greatest.  It helps us avoid critical thinking.  Is she ready to take on the political  Dr. Panglosses out there telling us this is the "best of all possible world".

Bob Olson