Americans have long prided themselves on being “positive” and optimistic — traits that reached a manic zenith in the early years of this millennium.
Iraq would be a cakewalk! The Dow would reach 36,000! Housing prices could never decline!
Optimism was not only patriotic, it was a Christian virtue, or so we learned from the proliferating preachers of the “prosperity gospel,” whose God wants to “prosper” you.
In 2006, the runaway bestseller The Secret promised that you could have anything you wanted, anything at all, simply by using your mental powers to “attract” it.
The poor listened to upbeat preachers like Joel Osteen and took out subprime mortgages. The rich paid for seminars led by motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and repackaged those mortgages into securities sold around the world.
Optimism wasn’t just a psycho-spiritual lifestyle option; by the mid-’00s it had become increasingly mandatory.
Two years into the Great Recession, it’s time to face the truth: Optimism feels good, really good, but it turns out to be the methamphetamine of run-amok American capitalism.
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company).
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