Barbara Ehrenreich on the Downside of Optimism

Why pessimism is good for you.

By Amanda Robb

Q: How is optimism hurting our country?
A: We don’t see [bad] things coming. Positive thinking had been so ingrained in corporate culture that by 2007 you could be fired for being negative, for saying something like “I think our subprime exposure is a little high.”
Q: But isn’t an upbeat attitude good for our well-being?
A: There’s danger in not recognizing the source of your troubles. If you don’t accept that you lost your job because of the economy, you might not do the things you need to do to help yourself.
Q: Why tackle this topic now?
A: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2000. [It’s now in remission.] I bought into the idea that positive thinking is good for your health. But that statement isn’t based in science. There isn’t a hell of a lot you can do when you have cancer except comply with ghastly treatments. People say, “Your mind will overcome the disease,” which is incredibly cruel, because this becomes a burden. You ask your-self, am I being positive enough? Why did I have that negative thought? You’re entitled to that negative thought. Happiness is not a duty. 

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