Thursday, 21 January 2010

Is the bright side the right side?

Optimism has been all over the news, recently. First of all, we're supposed to think positively at all times. But then, apparently, that's what got us into the mess with the economy. Plus, it doesn't help us beat cancer. Also, the perky mindset of the Americans who wish us all a nice day hasn't saved them from being heavily reliant on anti-depressants.

Perhaps just being realistic is the answer? Barbara Ehrenreich's latest book Smile or Die seems to offer a lot of sensible if dour analysis on the optimism crisis. But if that's a bit hardgoing, tune into a lecture on the subject live from the RSA at 1pm today and hear what some humorous European writer types (Laurence Shorter, Ariel Leve and Lucy Mangan) have got to say on the subject. 

[Picture by the truly brilliant Roadside Pictures.]


  1. How fun! You know I'm not against optimism as long as it's not fake:) Americans can overdo it sometimes, wishing you a nice day and asking you how are all the time...its a bit too much:) gonna try and tune in at 1pm, thnx for that. x LZ

  2. Hi Emily! I actually love the positivity you encounter when you go to the US - I was cycling up a hill in San Fran once and a couple of passerbys started cheering me on, shouting YOU CAN DO IT! I actually totally love it. But on the other hands, we Brits are so completely cynical...

  3. The Barbara Ehrenreich book isn't heavy going at all - in fact it's a really fast read. I think she's possibly a little bit overly hard on the positive psychology bods but it's a very sensible book.

    I tuned into the RSA thing but it was a bit hard to follow in places. I think the consensus was that happiness comes from within. In general though, these might be worth listening too just for the utter barkingness of some of the audience comments.

  4. GSE - I've got to admit I haven't read the book but just the interview / review I read alone made me feel slightly depressed. And maybe it's the memory of her Nickeled and Dimed that's putting me off. (BE is bloody wonderful, it has to be said.)

    They were barking yesterday though, weren't they? The speakers were pretty crap. Lucy Mangan made me laugh, she just seemed on the brink of going off on a random tangent. Ariel Leve seemed sensible and likeable and ready to tell Laurence Shorter (who seemed like an annoying toff but that's my completely unfounded impression) to STFU.

    Maybe I'll read the Ehrenreich book.

  5. yes--i think realism is the key. one of my best friends actually often calls me "pollyanna"--not b/c i'm stupidly optimistic about things, but b/c even in the most negative of situations i can find something positive to focus on. i don't know where i got this skill, but it has helped me immensely over the years. but people who are just all "if i think it, it will happen" make me INSANE!!!

  6. I used to buy my Marlboros at that store in the 90s, sadly the owner died the past year and the store is no more.