Defending The Power of Positive Thinking versus Positive Psychology–against the criticisms of Barbara Ehrenreich
Part I: Defending Positive Thinking
For a moderate defense of traditional positive thinking, I suggest my answer on this thread: Does Napoleon Hill-style “Positive Thinking” actually work? I think the example of entrepreneurs and innovators using it may be an empirical example she overlooks or minimizes.
Second, I think the “magnetism” claims are more metaphorical (although changing for the good on the inside generally makes you more attractive on the outside–although there isn’t an exact one to one relationship). If you look at those who believe in charismatic and enthusiastic leadership as effective prove the “magnetism” claims to be true. Also, those claims aren’t intrinsic to positive psychology (ie Seligman et al)
Part II: Defending Positive Psychology
What is typically called positive thinking vs. positive psychology is hugely different (although they obviously overlap in terms of positive thinking and goal setting). This distinction needs to be made for clarity and I believe that given the Barbara Ehrenreich video that Seb Paquet points to (rightly, I’ll admit) might leave you with the wrong message about positivity.
I will defend the later in the rest of the post–it was “begun” or “discovered” by Martin Seligman who is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania (I believe in the early 1990’s). Positive Psychology is more defensible, because they have science and research to back it up (see the link near the end)
By the way, I know the positive psychology folks do answer some of her criticisms. They speak to a balance “realistic optimism.” She takes a characterization based on the Think and Grow Rich-esque thinking more than Seligman’s version.
Future thinking in a positive way–which helps with risk taking and self-control is key to achieving important human ends that Ms. Ehrenreich may overlook. At a minimum, its hard to defend negative thinking or learned pessimism as a good thing or a way to effectively deal with reality. Moreover, people with PTSD and even other similar challenges need a way to deal with the world rather than isolation and alienation. It also has to do with a dynamic versus static view of self and the world.
Third, I think you can use Darwin and evolution to defend positive psychology for daily life, for social grouping, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
Positive psychology is partially about re-defining happiness and our idea of success and includes a number of other key practices (mindfulness/meditation, gratitude journaling, giving, and I believe virtue and a number of other issues). As Seligman and other defend its much more complex than anything Barbara Ehrenreich seems to be talking about (and coercive-ish versions of it don’t deny the impact of some of its better manifestations)