A version of this article was published in Health Intelligence Magazine July/August Issue 2015
Even a sceptic would probably concede that magical thinking is more fun than reality, but myth busting authors like Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America, show us that there isn’t a smidgeon of scientific proof to support the idea of a ‘universe’ (or Santa Claus or whoever) that manifests wealth, health or good fortune out of little more than our thinking.
A simplistic notion
Although movies like The Secret may have made a fortune for their creators, if the ’law of attraction’ was as simple as such docu-fantasies make out then we could replace the toil that earns our daily living with mastering the art of being right-thinking couch potatoes. One doesn’t have to be a sceptic or a genius to know that the only combination this will manifest is a small bank balance and a large backside but, regardless of reality, the relentless exposure to the brainwashing of the positive thinking cult continues.
Ehrehnreich didn’t set out to debunk the myths surrounding the idea of positive thinking. Only after experiencing the humiliation of the pink ‘cheerful’ nonsense that infantilises the real tragedy of breast-cancer did she start digging deep and discovered that a seemingly harmless positive disposition was one of the delusionary drivers behind the financial meltdown of 2008.
Although the so-called ‘law of attraction’ or the ability to ‘manifest’ whatever you want from the big dispenser in the sky is trotted out as scientific ‘fact’, Ehrehnreich claims that even rudimentary scientific knowledge will reveal the flaws in this fatuous argument: thoughts are not objects with mass (they are patterns of neurons firing within the brain) and if thoughts exerted some kind of gravitational force on material objects it would be difficult for anyone to take off their hat.
Quantum leap of faith
I am sure you’ve noticed how the word ‘quantum’ is popular with positive thinking alchemists who attempt to transform bullshit into scientific ‘fact’ but, the reality is, thoughts do not contain energy transmitting vibrations simply because in science there is no such thing as a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ vibration. Also, if our thoughts were magnetic and had the power to exert a pull on material goods or money then our heads would constantly be attracted to large metal objects like our motorcars or refrigerators.
Ehrenreich shows that our current obsession with being positive started as a reaction to the dour disposition of the Calvinistic hell-fire-and-brimstone theology. New Thought (which turned into New Age) became the ‘science’ bit in the Christian Science movement and, while such ideas were once abhorrent to mainstream religion, pastor-preneurs in modern mega-churches now attract big audiences with the idea that God wants you to be rich. Hmm …I wonder what happened to the ‘meek inheriting the earth’ and a rich man having as much chance of entering heaven as a camel has of passing through the eye of a needle?
During the‘re-engineering’ business fad of the Nineties (read: mass lay-offs) companies supported the positive thinking movement as a handy means of making individuals feel responsible for having the rotten luck of being on a retrenchment list. The idea of the self as the centre of the universe spilled over to lending institutions and the small matter of having a job or an income played second fiddle to grandiose thinking when buying a house one couldn’t possibly afford.
Ehrenreich is of the opinion that the positive thinking cult is responsible for the credit crunch because it has made narcissism and entitlement normal. She points out that the focus is no longer on broader society; other people are not there to be nurtured or to provide unwelcome reality checks. In the unhealthiest sense, they are now expected to nourish, praise and affirm.
For Ehrenreich, the opposite of positive thinking is not the answer either. She believes that incessant complaining and negativity is as delusional as being unrealistically positive. Rather than viewing our existence in an idealistically selfish way, she urges us to take a step back and use critical thinking to be more realistic about life. Of course it’s not as entertaining as magical thinking but, as we know, magic is an illusion and so too is funding one’s lifestyle through debt.