RSS Feed

Smile or Die

Accusations of “hate” and “unhealthy” negativity are frequently made by those in the positivity camp against those who aren’t. It’s one of the ways that they shut down discussion and examination of the actual claims of positivity.

Yesterday, I got a new comment on one of my earlier posts—the one called “Not Sexy, Just Crazy.” The commenter accused me of “hate” because of my critique of those I see as promoting the false idea that positive attitude and vegan diets can be effective linchpins (all by themselves) of treating serious illness. On Thursday, I’ll take up an important distinction that this commenter made—that between cure and remission—but today I give you another wonderful RSA Animate video of Barbara Ehrenreich talking about how it is that positivity is often itself much more cruel than realism. In this video, Ehrenreich focuses on economic cruelty, but elsewhere she has addressed the issue in terms of her own experience with breast cancer.

I think that “hate” is much too strong an emotion for what I feel toward Kris Carr and those like her in the “heal yourself” and “be happy [whether you really are or not]” school of thought. However, this raises the question for me of what is actually deserving of hate. One reason why I don’t hate Kris Carr is that I don’t really know what she is thinking, and so perhaps she is sincere and perhaps she is deluding herself as much as everyone else. In that case, she certainly deserves pity more than anything near hate.

However, even though I reserve my hate for those who participate in less well-intentioned forms of harm (such as genocide and war-mongering), I do believe that those in the positivity movement often harm others and therefore deserve at least some kind of approbation. I think that group-think of most kinds is detestable, and I think that people who are so insecure about the “positive” path they are following that they can’t even hear or consider other kinds of paths, that they get furiously angry about anyone who questions whether or not their path is right for everyone…well, there’s just something supremely ironic about that.

I am bemused by all those positivity types who are so angry with me (and others) for not being one of them. They can tell me repeatedly that my anger isn’t “healthy,” but, whoa, they seem more angry than I am. That, I believe, is the result of false positivity—ultimate anger, disappointment, even cruelty and marginalization of others. Genuine positiveness is something else entirely.

6 responses »

  1. I’ve just returned from a cognitive therapy session with my son and his behaviorist. On my drive home, even before reading your post, Lisa, I was thinking about the entire subject of positive thinking, primarily because the behaviorist gave him some “positive thinking strategies” to incorporate into his life. I’ve read Ehrenreich’s book and know that positive thinking has turned into a huge deceitful money maker that diminishes reality.

    My son’s therapist did an imaging exercise with him. She asked him to close his eyes and to create a “Happy Bubble”–a large imagined bubble of a color of his choice that surrounds him, protecting him from harmful things in the outside world, especially what he thinks people think of him. Yes, this sounds totally silly and useless and all that I dislike about the positive thinking movement. If it “deflates” when he is in his Happy Bubble, he should take three deep breaths so that it will re-inflate (here she gets him to breathe deeply, which is the foundation of mediation and yoga).

    But it got me thinking about the difference between the type of ill-directed positive thinking that Ehrenreich covers in her wonderful book and what might be helpful cognitive therapy. By definition, cognitive therapy is focused on how we think (or perceive) things in our lives, right? I wonder if the reader/commenter did not recognize the complexity and differences between cognitive therapy and deceitful positive thinking.

    I have no doubt that a “Happy Bubble” my son created the “affirmations” the therapist had my son tape to his doors and mirrors will have some small effect, but I am also not deluded (nor is he) that this Happy Bubble alone will change his life. It is one tool he can use to try to get past some childhood traumas (including the black hold of middle school).

    It’s not like my son is going to suddenly be a happy person today because of his Happy Bubble. It’s an attempt by a therapist who’s spent her life with Autistic children and adults to shift his thinking and perception toward.

    We all have a Happy Bubble, I think. It’s that self-protection from things people say and do to us throughout our day. For some people, the visualization of a “bubble” is helpful as a starting point. For me, it’s just silly.

    However, several months ago, I had to go to a meeting that I knew would be difficult for me to sit through because of the personalities in the room. Before I went to the meeting, I went to a salon and had my eyebrows waxed. I went into the meeting relaxed like I’d never been before, and each time someone said something that annoyed me, I just said to myself, “I have great looking eyebrows today.” That was my Happy Bubble.

    Don’t worry, other readers. I’m not going to ask you to buy my (nonexistent) book about Happy Bubbles, and I don’t want you to pay me thousands of dollars to get the magic cure to ward off all negative people.

    One reason I appreciate this blog so much is that you’re really examining this notion of what I’ve always called “happy-happy-joy-joy”–the superficial and marketing ploy of thinking good thoughts always results in good things. You’re really putting this thing under a magnifying glass.

    I was reared on this notion of if I just prayed the right way, I’d get what I wanted. If I was faithful enough, if I was good enough, I’d have happiness. Life is just way too complicated for that. Otherwise, we’d all have a guaranteed Happy Bubble.

    • One of the best things about doing this blog has been that so many people help me tease out distinctions. Genevieve did that with the first “Not Sexy, Just Crazy” post. Then today on Facebook, an old friend of mine said that this post came at a good time for her because she’s been hearing a lot of assertions that everything would be just fine with her Type 1 diabetic son if only he had the right attitude. I sent her a message recommending compassion- and reality-based therapy rather than cognitive therapy.

      But you’re right that cognitive therapy can be helpful if the right person does it with a sense of what goes beyond that. If a Happy Bubble is one of many tools that a person can try to help them feel better, then, of course, they should use Happy Bubbles. But if a therapist asserts that it’s your fault if a Happy Bubble doesn’t work for you, then fire the therapist!

      I do believe that our attitudes can be important. I do believe that we should eat decent, real food. I do believe that we should reduce our stress. I believe that prayer helps people sometimes. Just not in the linear and simple way that so often gets recommended.

      Anyway, thanks for helping me continue to move the magnifying glass around to get different perspectives. Sometimes I feel scattered in this search, but discovery and exploration are never linear either.

      • Oh, I like that distinction: “if a therapist asserts that it’s your fault if the Happy Bubble doesn’t work for you, then fire the therapist!” You always do such a great job of clarifying what I’m trying to say.

        Used as tools there are strategies that work for some people. There’s a thing that many cognitive therapists are using called EFT or TFT Therapy, many people claiming to have discovered this miraculous cure for everything. . This involves tapping various parts of one’s face and body, chanting or repeating the negative thoughts, and as it was explained to me by a therapist I did fire, the anxiety/fears/negative feelings will disappear. If it doesn’t work, you aren’t doing it right! Ack.

  2. Amen Lisa. Well, you know how I feel about Smile or Die! That said, I wanted to add a tidbit from my own personal experience: As a patient advocate I’d have to say that actually the people who don’t follow on the positivity bandwagon get much more done in the way of positive change than the ones participating in the positivity movement.

    I’d say the ones not following it are Doers on missions for change and the ones in the movement are passively accepting terrible fates and wishing and hoping for better fates. When the shit hits the fan and it turns out all that wishing and hoping and sending vibes out to the universe didn’t work— they are devastated.

    My problem with the positivity movement is the tremendous burden it places on the patient to be well. As if that patient didn’t have enough burden. And it’s the sort of mentality that doesn’t push for change within the health care system as well, because it places blame on the patient for not getting better.

    • Very interesting, Gen. I, too, have seen people believe in positivity only to find that it lets them down in the long run. It’s heartbreaking sometimes.

      And I have the same problem with the burden on the patient.

      I guess I feel very protective of patients. I believe that if someone focuses her energy on herself rather than instituting change in the system, that’s understandable. I agree, though, with you and Barbara Ehrenreich that it doesn’t have to be this way and that we could alleviate a lot more suffering as a group with a focus on outward change as much as some vague inward transformation that’s supposed to make it all okay. But I do respect each person’s choice in that regard. I just don’t respect the journalists and those who turn positivity treatments into a prescription for the masses. They are taking advantage of sick people by selling snake oil.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: