Following is a PDF file of an excellent (and long) article from the September 2010 issue of Harper’s Magazine tracing the rise of the positive thinking movement, and how it’s been taken to ridiculous and heartbreaking extremes, leading to the victim-blaming mentality and society-wide narcissism so pervasive today. This attitude that we can all be our own gods and have everything we want if we’re just “happy enough” even infiltrates its way into churches, where “Christian” preachers like Joel Osteen are basically telling their flocks that if they only plaster on a winning smile and just be happy all the time, all their problems will evaporate.
Just like magic! Magical thinking saves the day!
Besides being a blatant lie (your problems are NOT just going to go away, but you might be able to delude yourself they don’t exist), the nasty flip side of this is that if you are a victim of any misfortune — illness, financial problems, loss of a job, a divorce, mental illness, any other losses of any kind — that it’s your own fault because you weren’t positive or “happy” enough.
Even worse, such victim-blaming tactics turn even darker: they allow a person to not have to take any responsibility for the way you feel. If they say or did something that hurt you, they don’t have to say they’re sorry, because after all, saying you’re sorry is admitting guilt, and guilt is a Very Bad Thing. No, so instead, they GASLIGHT you by telling you it’s YOUR problem that what they said or did upset you. “I’m not responsible for the way you feel,” they say. “That’s YOUR problem.” Case closed. Door slammed in your face.
My parents, especially my mother, was notorious for projecting blame back onto me, but both of them did it long before it became a thing. And of course, no emotions except happiness were allowed. The sad irony is that no one in our family was happy — we were all fucking miserable. But showing misery was verboten because in a narcissistic family, well, you just don’t show your feelings because no one wants to deal with them!
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with positive thinking, of course. It’s a great skill to develop and will make your life a whole lot better than wallowing in a cesspool of self pity and marinating in a stew of misery all the time. But taken to extremes, anything good can become bad. This is a perfect example of another of those excesses Americans are so famous (and infamous) for.
The War On Unhappiness: Goodbye Freud, Hello Positive Thinking
By Gary Greenberg