On Meanings, Tyrannies, Women & Monsters

Then, in my childhood in the dawn
Of a most stormy life was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still . . .
–Edgar Allan Poe, Alone

1. The Meaning of Things

I’ve never lost my childhood sense of mystification – my ability to be amazed by the intricate puzzles and foggy mazes surrounding the reality of a situation. And, over the years, my need to know the meaning of things, and to have those meanings make sense, has only grown stronger.

I suspect that if the world were as simple as wheat and chaff, the chaff would be far more plentiful. So many of us seem to be in a constant search for something outside our own realm. In reaching for that something, we superimpose the unnatural upon even the most common realities. A shadow becomes a ghost, a falling leaf becomes a message, and the human mind becomes a god, capable of performing miracles. . .if only one believes.

Platitudes and abstractionist philosophies abound, and many would argue that they are harmless. I strongly disagree. What becomes popular in our society becomes pervasive, affecting everything from our cultural mores to our social opinions.

2. The Tyranny of Positive Thinking

I remember when the gun of positive thinking was turned against cancer patients in the 80’s. Scores of books and literature were written that either laid sideways blame on victims for having the disease of “repressed emotions” or “negativity”, or that effusively promoted positive thinking as the cure. Those who died were not positive enough – they didn’t believe enough in the power of their own mind. Twenty years later, it’s what Dr. Jimmie C. Holland, in her book The Human Side of Cancer, refers to as “the tyranny of positive thinking.”

Unfortunately, despite major long-term studies showing that while having a positive attitude may help patients handle their disease better, it does not directly affect survival rates, the tyranny persists. The latest psuedo-science headline screams “A Positive Outlook on Life May Protect Against Breast Cancer”. Sadly, some breast cancer victims will read or remember only the explosive headline, and wonder if they brought the disease on themselves by not being cheerful or optimistic enough.

Outside of the realm of cancer, the tyranny of positive thinking has led to the massively held belief that unhappiness of any sort is some sort of disease – one caused by a mind that refuses to see the glass as half-full – that does not find beauty in pain, or redemption in tragedy.

And once again, platitudes abound.

Gratitude. . . turns what we have into enough, and more . . . -Melody Beattie
You can have everything you want in the world if you love yourself first!! –
Louise Hay
I am the perpetrator of my suffering – but only all of it. – Byron Katie

I had a revealing conversation once with a therapist who mindlessly repeated the oft-stated belief that “no one can make you feel hurt without your permission.”   I asked her what would happen if at that moment a madman stormed into her office and shot her.  Would she be hurt?  Could she will the bullet to miss her? What if it wasn’t a bullet, but a fist or a flying stapler – would the weapon make a difference?  Would she, bruised and bloodied afterwards, refuse to carry the affect of such an assault, maintaining the same unlocked doors and sense of security?  What if it was not her, but her daughter?

Of course people can make you feel hurt without your permission.  They can do so with a weapon, with words, with broken promises, bullying, or diminishment.  Others can rob you of a livelihood, a sense of safety, or even a person you loved.  They can steal the money you needed to retire or pay the rent.  The bad actions of another can have a profound, and even lifelong affect.

Ah, but. . . “We can’t control the actions of other people, we can only control how we feel about it.” Enter the foggy maze, where a bullet becomes inspiration and an unwarranted fist becomes a lesson.  Where those who die young were wanted in Heaven by God himself, and where pain, and struggle, and even the worst circumstances can be willed away . . . if only you believe.

3. Women, Unhappiness & the Chemical Solution

If only you believe in gratitude, says Beattie, whatever you have will be more than enough. And if it isn’t? Maybe it’s because you didn’t love yourself enough or think the right thoughts, according to Hay. In the end, Katie tells us, all suffering is self-inflicted. The robbery, the assault, the disease, the death. . .we must have wanted it on some level – or maybe God and the fates decided we needed it – or maybe it’s some karmic lesson left over from life #46 that we need to learn for life #47.  After all, there are no accidents.

It doesn’t surprise me that women make up the majority of those who most strongly espouse this fantastical kind of thinking.  We make up 50-51% of the population, yet hold only a scant percentage of the political and social power.  Lacking equal affirmation, and standing outside the doors of power, we seek change where we can – within the boundless territory of self.

It’s also not surprising that much of this magical thinking is, at its core, overly forgiving and tolerant of outside sources, and heavy on self-blame. Women have been molded, domineered, and duped into ready forgiveness and self-blame for centuries.

We learned that we bring forth children in pain to pay for Eve’s want of knowledge. Our monthly cycle was not a sign of health, but a curse. We were taught that as long as the weapon used against us was no thicker than a man’s thumb, assaults against us were sanctioned by God.  When even the most senseless wars of men killed our children, we were told it would be ignoble not to feel proud of our sacrifice.  Our emotions have been, at various times, labeled as madness or hysteria.  We have been romanticized as pleasing helpmates, cheerful housewives, and doting mothers. Scorned as ball breakers, brash women, hags, and bitches when we didn’t tow the patriarchal line.  Even now we are often blamed for rape, the divorce rate, and the destruction of the nuclear family.

The unhappiness of women seems to be viewed through a different lens than the unhappiness of men. It’s likely that the same unbalanced social mores that rate assertiveness differently for the sexes does the same when it comes to emotion. In other words, when men express unhappiness, it may be considered reasonable given circumstances, whereas a woman’s unhappiness is suspect – caused solely by her own actions, raging hormones, or negative, complaining female mind. If we can’t find our happy place in imaginative mental revisionism, then there’s always a chemical solution. According to a 2003 study from the University of Michigan, the ratio of women to men on anti-depressants in 2:1-3:1. Even after accounting for gender-based differences, such as postpartum depression, the ratio is high.

While clinical depression is caused by a biological imbalance, I have to wonder if at least some of those prescriptions aren’t being written for women who feel guilty for not being the reality shifting revisionists and perfectly cheerful workers-daughters-wives and mothers society tells them they should be.

4. The Blinding Aftermath

Unhappiness is not a disease, and outside of true medical conditions, it is also not a symptom. It seems disingenuous to promote positive emotion as a natural, healthy response while blacklisting unhappiness as unnatural, unhealthy, and solely a matter of choice.

In a society where most circumstances, and the emotions surrounding those circumstances, are thought to be a matter of choice,

- social injustices are minimized or negated,
– complaints, no matter how valid, are derided,
– reality becomes “what you make it” rather than what it actually is,
– the pressure on changing external forces is lessened,
– and compassion and empathy are spared.

It is easier to wear blinders in a world where human unhappiness is considered a self-fulfilling prophecy or disease.   Rather than going through the hard work of correcting injustices, we can blame the victims. We can refuse to see victims, and see instead only people who failed to make good choices.  We can more easily turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, and turn a deaf ear towards their complaints, when we believe that whatever they are suffering is self-perpetrated.

We can harm each other in a myriad of ways, and then claim we are not responsible for the aftermath.  We can be less compassionate, less generous, and less empathetic when we believe that the problem with other people is their attitude rather than their circumstance.

Certainly, happiness is preferable to the lack of it –- that is not the question. The question is one of genuineness, and realism, and rationality. In promoting positive, magical thinking not just as a self-help tool, but as the ultimate cure for nearly every human condition from cancer to social marginalization, what have we accomplished?   What have we lost?  What does the future hold for a society that makes bestsellers of books like The Secret, in which the author claims, “Everything that’s coming into your life you are attracting into your life.”  Writer Tim Watkin, of the Washington Post, points out that “Hard work, talent, education, even luck go unmentioned. As The Secret puts it, all you have to do is ‘put in your order with the universe.’ Ask. Believe. Receive. That’s the mantra.”

It’s a mantra that has been played like a lulling serenade, particularly during the reign of Republican congressional then Presidential rule, in which big business and war took precedence over people, and invisible bootstraps were the only things offered to those reeling from high unemployment rates, skyrocketing inflation, and a record number of home foreclosures.   The years from 1999-2004 (the last year studied) saw a nearly 20% increase in the suicide rate among 45-54 year-olds. For women, the rate leapt 31 percent.  Coincidence?   Or a matter of circumstance?  Researchers believe that the prime suspect is a high rate of prescription drug use and abuse, particularly of anti-depressants.

5. The Monster in the Closet

On May 30, 2008 an elderly man in Hartford, Connecticut was run over by a car on a busy street.  The driver did not stop, and no one, not even a single person, stopped to help him, or tried to divert traffic away from his body. Torres, 78, was left paralyzed from the neck down.  “At the end of the day we’ve got to look at ourselves and understand that our moral values have now changed,” Police Chief Daryl Roberts was quoted as saying. “We have no regard for each other.”

What regard can we have for ourselves and others when magical, positive thinking is the order of the day? When we believe that someone, somewhere else, is in charge of helping those who need it – or worse, when we believe that almost every human need is a self-contained matter, and that experiences and tragedies, no matter how harsh or unjust, are somehow chosen?

To what end is the self-flagellation guised as positivity? If we cannot truly “think it and be it” – if the outside world does not turn on our most focused and heartfelt wishes – and the future we so studiously and lovingly envisioned does not pan out, is it because we did not Ask, Believe, and Receive correctly?  Were our thoughts not happy enough, positive enough?

Realism in the age of magical thinking has become the monster in the closet. The scary thing that we avoid for fear of being swallowed or overtaken, or swept up in a battle when all we really want to do is relax –-  let go and let God. Find inner peace.  Fill up on a feast of gratitude, platitudes, and self-love when sustenance is short, believing that eventually we’ll discover the secret to life-long happiness and contentment.

If realism is viewed as a monster, it is not an imaginary one, nor will it go away if ignored or abandoned in favor of magical thoughts.   It needs our action, awareness, involvement, and yes – our continued struggle for a world that is better in reality, and not just in hope.   Our shared reality, in particular, needs us, front and center and standing at attention, willing to bravely face the unpleasant truths and do battle with harmful forces, if it is ever to arrive at a place of true social justice, lasting peace, and fully realized potential.  We need bravery, not bromides, to create the changes we seek.

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  1. Wow!
    Once again you have blown me away.
    There is simply nothing I can say that is worthy.
    I stand in awe, both of your words
    and your bravery.
    Thank you for sharing both.

  2. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why you do not have a syndicated weekly column running in all major markets.

    Brilliant piece, Jane.

    I have to admit (surprise! HA!) I imbibe in a bit of magical thinking. Hell…I AM magic. The world will have to deal.

    I’ve been called Pollyanna, I frequently express gratitude, and I acknowledge my myriad blessings. But I do not sit around on my ass and expect all that I envision “will be” simply because I “ask and believe.”

    What I ask for is almost always the same…the wisdom and discernment to understand and act lovingly and respectfully. Of course, I first must extend and expect that love and respect to and for myself. As a younger woman that was the hard part.

    Next, I work. I work hard. I determine my needs, wants, goals; and I map out a course of action. And then I act. I do what it takes to get what I need or want, expecting very little from anyone else, but always grateful when help comes my way.

    On the topic of hope…I am ever-hopeful. Hope is the biggest element of my shtick and my shpiel. I think we all need hope. But I think of hope as a verb, not an adjective. Hope requires action, otherwise it becomes maudlin self-pity.

    I hope that my actions reveal unpleasant truths, offer concrete alternatives, and destroy harmful forces, thus moving me closer to my own potential and all of us closer to social justice.


  3. This is the perfect, brilliant summary:

    “In a society where most circumstances, and the emotions surrounding those circumstances, are thought to be a matter of choice,

    – social injustices are minimized or negated,
    – complaints, no matter how valid, are derided,
    – reality becomes “what you make it” rather than what it actually is,
    – the pressure on changing external forces is lessened,
    – and compassion and empathy are spared. ”

    I understand the tyranny of positive thinking, especially after watching my sister and my mother die of cancer, my father waste away after a stroke, my father-in-law spend two years motionless and speechless on his back with ALS. Everyone with horrific disease is expected to be a warrior, a hero, an inspiration. No one is allowed to grieve, to rant, to shake a fist at the sky, to weep without consolation. We must cry alone, hide our tears, put on brave faces when we step out the door.

    Gratitude. I do foster gratitude in myself and in my children because it can nurture compassion and awareness and reveal hidden joys.

    That said, my attitude about gratitude kept me from seeking treatment for chronic depression when I should have. I swallowed the idea that because my circumstances were far from dire, I had not “earned” the right to be depressed. Depression wasn’t an illness to treat but a character flaw to fight. I wasted so many months (years?) in a fog of pain and denial and guilt.

    It sounds crazy but in our culture we need to honor people’s right to be unhappy. As you so eloquently pointed out, until we acknowledge the reality of our pain, we can’t take action to lessen it.

  4. **I know I’m swimming in the right gene pool with all of us who inhabit this world of Jane’s, and I don’t mind that I may be a small fish in a small pond–it’s the correct pond and that’s all that matters.

    I’ve been in existence long enough to know what truly matters to me. That knowledge and awareness did not come easily, and it would be worthless if it had.

    Working with abused kids for over 10 years taught me most of what I know about what reality is. I’m forever indebted to several thousand children for giving me the best education one could hope to get in this life. I learned, with great trepidation and a lot of hiccuping before I got it right, that to let another sit with their emotions was the greatest gift I could give to them.

    Sitting with a tormented child and allowing them to spread their pain over me, allowing them to physically strike out in frustrated fury with the hope of dissipating their incredible multi-tiered pains by landing blows upon me and me never uttering an “Its OK” is not what many consider to be the right way to give solace to another.

    Sitting with a battered shell which holds the fragmented ego of the child enfolded in my arms, trying to fight my own frustration at the unconscionable acts that wrecked the child I embrace, and not interrupting the torrent of invectives that are hurled at me is not viewed as ‘therapeutic’ to those who don’t deal well with reality.

    Sitting, agitated and anxious but as still as I can, as I withhold my tears while the shreds of a young human sobs for hours to the point of breathlessness into my shoulder–daring to touch an adult, forgetting that trust was necessary to do so–trying to maintain an emotional distance that will serve the child better than if I give in to my own fury, looks nice and professional to the uninitiated.

    Sitting, with the horrors raging through my head that have been told to me by this child-hero of the gross violations of all that is good, right and just in this world, and never flinching; knowing that justice just doesn’t exist for this child and so many like him/her, and letting them cleanly, nakedly feel the depths of their pains is the gift I learned how to give to them.

    To those who seek pop-psychology, or self-help as we call it this century, I am a beastly incarnation that should be cast to the brimstone foundation of hell.

    They can kiss my narrowing ass!

    For life to be wonderful for those who have lived their hell on earth, they have to have ‘sat’ with all their emotions. No pseudo admonition of ‘you bring what comes to you upon yourself’ will change that reality.

    Emotions are fluid and complex for a reason. They exist for a myriad of reasons. To extinguish one, or any emotion, or deny its place in one’s life is being willfully stupid.

    I am not afraid of emotions. I may not like some of them. They may come in dog-pile fashion upon me. I may not be prepared to handle them quite right when they insinuate themselves in my glorious day, but, by the goddess, I will sit with them. It is the never ending gift from ‘my kids’.

    And I’m beyond thankful. A gift from the realm of humanity that has been stripped of all that is native and natural to humanity has been bestowed upon me and I will NOT release it.

  5. ya know, i’ve always thought the easiest way to wealth and happiness was to write a book claiming to know the secret to wealth and happiness, and wrap it in a thin veil of religion but my conscience keeps me from this, you see.

    seriously, i’m all for the power of positive thought. why do they have to go and mess with that? i am so appreciating what you are laying down here, Jane. someone gave me a Louse Hay book once and i was marveling at how hung up Ms. Hay seems to be on anger and sexual repression. well, no wonder! i would be a quivering mass of self doubt if i prescribed to what she has to say about the average human body. oh oh, and remember that woman that wrote that cure all to cancer book? the one that prescribes doing daily colon cleansing and holding electrodes because the main cause, she believed, were microscopic flukes? fuck [i'm totally laughing right now] it was a big deal for a while. yeah, what a way to fight cancer, eh? “i’m gonna shock and shit myself healthy”, oh lordy.

    i cringe every time i hear some complete jackass try to sell me on how we all choose our parents, or illness or hideous circumstance. kinda makes me want to punch them in the face then claim it as pre-ordained by their own violent thoughts. [i cannot tell you how many times that has crossed my mind]

    and Julie, i completely agree that we’ve gotten so far away from our own emotions, we no longer have a way to gauge our basic needs. WILLFULLY STUPID…i love that.

    i love every single emotion i have had to face. even the ugly ones. they have forged me, humbled me, comforted, soothed and strengthened me. it’s usually how i figure out that the hell i need to be doing. [or not doing] today…tonight…i’m entirely grateful for my high quality problems and suddenly very tired. best i can do right this moment is sleep.

  6. There’s a lot of pressure from multiple sources that forces us into believing happiness is a normal state of mind.

    If we’re not happy, we’re often convinced we’re in a situation that needs fixing, a situation that does not conform to what we’re entitled to.

    Some of us head towards a therapist, some fake a smile, but most of us realize that happiness is a media induced state of mind:
    we have to be thin, happy, or take our medication that has often been proven to be no more effective than a placebo.

  7. Jane, again a beautiful piece of literature. As others have said, why are you not syndicated in major newspapers? Probably because sometimes what you write makes others uncomfortable. I’m probably the queen of denial, but I also am lucky to have lived a pretty charmed live, or so my I have seen through my rose colored glasses.

    I’m just curious though the tone of your writing in this piece depicts depression or apathy for life. Do you suffer from depression, and if so do you think medication can help? I’ve done both medication and therapy long and short term and think finding the right therapist can assist in seeing things more rosey! I think its too scary to fall down the rabbit hole of depression, and it really can be a battle to fight against feeling depressed and trying to move above it.

    You are right that so many women more than men suffer depression. Its true that women are expected to hold so much more responsibility in society than men. Now, when women work full time and have a family, they are practically working two full time jobs, while the men have greatly changed to become much more involved fathers and husbands, I still think that a majority of the family responsibilities lies on the women, unless the women is strong enough to say enough!

    Pirate Queen- you are also very talented in your writing. I always look forward to your replies as much as Janes posts.

    All the women that post on Janes sight are such strong female voices, its very refreshing. Glad I can comment and learn from everyone of you. And get a glimpse of each person’s life story. Thanks for sharing ladies!

  8. wow,that was a large glass of ice water. Once again you have provided a very thoughtful observation on our times.
    And although it feels deeply cynical to me, I agree with many of the situations you have pointed out, but not all. I have spent 30 years nursing the “broken and bleeding” and have witnessed my share the pain and sorrow. When I was younger I railed at the injustice. As I have gotten older I have perhaps become more introspective and more observational.

    As another of your readers pointed out, I became a student and learned the lessons from my patients. What I was struck with most often was the courage and grace and peace with which many of them dealt with their individual trials. I was humbled by their gratitude and kindness to me for simply showing up and doing my “job”. I was amazed by the care and kindness of friends, family, neighbors and sometimes strangers who stepped up and took time out of their lives to help. And I was awed by the strength and courage of so many who survived against all odds.
    For some it may have been faith for others it may have been “positive thinking ” and others it may have been grit and determination. I don’t know, but it made me believe.

    Yes, there are a lot of victims out here and there are a lot of selfish, inconsiderate, self absorbed SOBs.
    I don’t know of the glass is half full or half empty and I just have to take it on a case by case basis.
    I’m thinking now of those beautiful stories you wrote about extraordinary women, so which is it?

  9. Hope and Happiness … girls, I’ve spent a lifetime defining it, recognizing it finally, and then chasing it down when I realized I’d lost it. I grew up having all the shit put on me that Jane describes. Childhood was my boot camp. Young adulthood found me reacting to the entire thing … can you spell “pissed off”? Then, as I grew up, I first had to discover self-respect and worthiness. As my perspective changed and I began to *expect* happiness for myself and my family, hope, as Kate says, became a verb. I discovered the goddess helps those who help themselves.

    You might say my family and I have spent a lot of cash getting happy. Going back and forth across the U .S., dealing with emotional baggage, ghosts from the past, learning lessons about material things, those shiny distractions that can become dead weight … It doesn’t matter, really. It’s just not that important. It also doesn’t matter that we all have different perspectives and different spiritual views.

    What matters … what truly matters … is that each of us find the key within our heart to capture the courage it takes to chase our happiness. Then, recognize that it is our obligation to spread it around in our way. Jane, you may despise all this positive thinking and blah blah blah, but you do that very thing when you write … you spread your personal happiness, no matter what your circumstances, and make people think and feel … give us pause.

    Lucifer (that metaphorical son-of-a-bitch) is a fucktard, I have discovered. He’s a talented fucktard, but a fucktard none the less.


  10. Donna, I understand what you’re saying about depression, but I think Jane’s point (I’m not trying to speak for her, it’s just my read) was that natural unhappines, caused by circsumstance, is not a disease. I also don’t see how you could think this article was apathetic. because that’s not what I took from it at all it. Did you read this part? “Our shared reality, in particular, needs us, front and center and standing at attention, willing to bravely face the unpleasant truths and do battle with harmful forces, if it is ever to arrive at a place of true social justice, lasting peace, and fully realized potential. ” To me, there’s no apathy there, but optimism born out of love for the idea of people reaching their potential, and living in peace.

    Jane: It’s always amazing to me how you express thoughts I’ve had but never really carried through, and then kick them right through the goalposts. I’ve heard the saying “there are no accidents” a thousand times this year. I hope to God they never spread this kind of thoughtlessness to a rape victim, a mother whose lost a child, or anyone else who’s gone through tragedy.

    “Everything happens for a reason?” We might be able to find reasons, but that doesn’t mean they’re good ones! A drunk driver kills our child, it happened because he was drunk….not because nature or God is planning the set-up to some ultimate reward or lesson.

    Im sorry to ramble, your posts do that to me, and like PirateQueen I feel like I’m in the right company!

  11. I’ve always had problems with the word “happy” or “happiness”. My 1974 Webster’s New World Dictionary defines Happy as lucky or fortunate. My personal defininition of happy is a fleeting emotion caused by a wide variety of events. I strive for contentment — definition from the above dictionary, satisfied.

    Regarding gratitude. I try to practice it as a form of survival. I try to be grateful for a few things each day. But simple things. Being in a hurry and catching a green light instead of a red light. Waking up relatively comfortable (I don’t ever expect to be free of pain but being comfortable is A#1 in my book). Being grateful for a snuggly kitty. Being very grateful for a thoughtful, caring willing to do just about anything to make my life easier husband. I don’t expect my gratitude to have an effect on the world at large or my life at large but MY attitude toward life for a while.

    Regarding “the tyranny of positive thinking”. Well, I could write a book on that puppy. I was diagnosed with polio at 4 months and 1 day old. Yes this was before the vaccine. I started having surgeries at 6, finished just past 18. I had lots of spike body casts. If you don’t know what those are, you’re lucky and don’t want to know.

    I was also born in the western tip end of the Bible Belt. Not too many fundimentalists during the 50’s and 60’s and even 70’s but lots of evangelcals. During the 70’s, there came to be something called “the Jesus Movement”. I remember being challenged in a multitude of places that I had unconfessed sin, I didn’t have enough faith and a few other “my fault” things I’ve fortunately forgotten and because of these things, I wasn’t healed.

    Now, polio destroys nerve paths and muscles atrophy. Being in body casts during growth spurts makes legs smaller. I have a size 4 foot and a size 10 foot. Guess which was in the cast. One leg is also 2 & 1/2 inches shorter than the other. Guess.

    I am a person of faith and a believer — never mind in who. I firmly believe that I have been healed — inside. My “infirmity” doesn’t bother me. I’m a basically cheerful person. My childhood photos of me in waist high braces with crutches show me smiling my silly head off. I liked life (I still do – most of the time.)

    I was in college for the second time at 30ish. (Flunked out the first time with a single digit tenth GPA.) I was double majoring in psychology and religion. (Yeah, I can BS well.) I had to write a term paper on the “apostle” Paul. I had had it up to here with all the people giving me grief about my lack of faith, etc. so I wrote a paper titled “Paul, the Suffering Servant of the Suffering Servant”. Got a decent grade on it too. And it gave me some information to share with those giving me grief.

    I do believe — and get this right gang — that TO A POINT we do make choices to be upset or deal positively with things. This does not mean that I may not need drugs or therapy to help me or someone else may need drugs and therapy. But for the average joe or jane on the street, we do have the ability to choose to get upset with things we can do nothing about. I’m not talking about child abuse or Africa or this damned war or serious things. But I can choose to not get upset about an idiot driver or a snotty person I pass on the street.

    I’ve had a long couple of days with another ahead of me tomorrow (Sunday) so I may not be making much sense and I may be groveling Monday apologizing about what I said but I think I said what I wanted to say I just may not have said it clearly and for that I apologize up front.

    It’s 7pm here, I may go sleepy bye. nighty-night!

  12. So a funny thing arrived in my email this evening, and I wanted to share. I think it was Kris who pointed out the money-making aspect of selling happiness. Please note that this was a form letter, and that the sender apparently did not read the article. Without further ado:

    to jane xxxxxx
    date Sat, Sep 13, 2008 at 1:51 PM
    subject Business Collaboration Opportunity – Byron Katie’s new online program

    Dear Jane,

    I had the privilege of visiting your site http://janedevin.com/2008/09/12/realism/ and saw you have a real interest with The Work of Byron Katie.

    As we have just successfully launched an online, step-by-step coaching program based on The Work with Byron Katie, we thought it may interest you to investigate the program and the possibility of collaboration and communication between us. . . .

    You may want to comment on our program, as well as inform your own site users regarding this new possibility to experience The Work. You will definitely want to join our affiliate program so you can earn money from users that were referred from your site and opened an account in The Work on the Web…..

    There is also a special offer just for you and your site management that will give you an opportunity to experience The Work on the Web for 14 days, at a price of only $1…….


  13. I read this Friday night right before bed and am still trying to digest it. It was a heavy piece for me.

    Jane, you have an amazing way of saying what has been on my mind, and doing it more beautifully than I could ever imagine.

    Thank you so much for giving us these wonderful things to think about. The things you write about sort of guides me on a journey of self discovery that finds a way of healing old wounds.

  14. Blown away, once again. I don’t know what to say, but to let you know that reading this was, well, like something just snapped into place.

    And I feel the need to defend you against the label of unhappy or depressed, although you don’t need my defense, and I know that most people have not met you. I have, and was not surprised to find that you’re humorous, funny, intense, serious, smarter than all get out, and compassionate.

    Please keep doing what you do, Jane. It’s important work, even if you’re not making the kind of money Byron Katie is; that form letter you got is galling!

  15. I’ve come back and read this piece several times in the last few days – mainly to digest – I swear I’m not stalking you :)

    There is a lot to be said for positive thinking. It can get me through the worst experiences. Although, I don’t believe all the ills of life are invited in by us. Sometimes things just ARE. I believe in the laws of attraction – and I believe that negative people will attract negative people as they communicate with the same energy. At the same time we can be super positive and encounter negative folks everyday due to work , family, transit situations. None of us are immune to bullshit no matter how positive we are.

    I don’t think my present health issues were invited. I believe some of it is genetic and some of it is due to the car accidents I survived. These things have an impact on our physical selves. Some people may think I made some sort of “universal agreement” to have the accidents – but I have difficulty with that. After all – I’ve been visualizing a lottery win for years and so far – ZIPPO! I think the “attraction” rule has to work for positive stuff too. Otherwise it is a flawed theory.

    I know a lot of people who changed a shitty mindset by reading “The Secret” and whether I agree with it being the answer or not is irrelevant. If it has helped some get a better, more proactive outlook on their own lives – it was worth something.

    I think to call something the “ANSWER” is a bit much. Life is ever changing – what works one day will not get us through another day. Sometimes we will buckle from the weight of emotion and stay down for months. Those times it is impossible to “Think Positive” our way out. I’ve seen the underbelly of depression many times. It is an ugly place – I’ve needed the assistance of medication and it has helped. There is a time and a place for medication. Thought I believe it is thrown too easily at some situations.

    As always you’ve given much food for thought. I do know one thing for sure – you should always be writing!


  16. I get it Jane. I get that you aren’t talking about a person having a positive attitude, because you’ve always had that, but are talking instead of positive thinking being taken out of context, way out of context, and used as a way to blame others, wear blinders, and not deal with reality.

    I so absolutely get what you’re saying, and thank you a million times over for saying it so powerfully. I think the problem with messages like yours are not the words, or the clarity, but what people read into them. If you say unhappiness is not a disease, then you must be unhappy, right? If you question the “positive” platitudes, you must be a negative person. I get it!!! I want to shout that, but don’t know how to make it bold.

  17. thank you Lonnie because that is what i got out of it too….and how it’s become the billion dollar industry that preys on those that gobble this stuff up.

  18. Some final thoughts before I move on to the next topic:

    I am a naturally optimistic person. I have high hopes nearly everyday, and even if it’s small, I do *something* to bring them closer to reality. Yet I am also a person whose mind automatically darts to the flaws in something. Misspellings in newspaper articles. A sales tag that’s 19% off the price instead of the promised 20%. That I notice these kinds of things doesn’t dampen my optimism, or my hopes.

    Sometimes a writer can write something that they know is based on an absolute truth, yet that truth may be translated differently depending on the reader. In this case, the truth was – Outside of clinical depression, unhappiness is not a disease, but a natural human emotion, and one that’s often based on circumstance. When society seeks to negate all unhappiness as a clinical malady or matter of choice, it diminishes people and circumstances, and causes social stagnation. When “positive thinking” becomes magical, positive thinking, and it’s used as a weapon against others (rather than just a self-contained self-help tool) it’s no longer thinking, or positive.

    In 46 years, I have never been as stunned by apathy as I have during the Bush years. I don’t find it coincidental at all that the rise of books like THE SECRET and self-blame gurus like Byron Katie occured during Bush’s reign. While many “new age” philosophies are attributed to liberals, the latest incarnation of the positive thinking movement is most assuredly Republican. War, death, misery and corruption are redirected to the matter of self — unhappiness, tragedy, and bad circumstance is a matter of individual choice. There is no need to pay attention to what others are doing, when the only power that really counts is the power of self. There’s less need for compassion when we believe that there are no victims — when those who lose their jobs and homes brought it upon themselves or needed some karmic lesson. Those who complain are just “unhappy people” who have failed to make good choices or create their own positive realities.

    In the meantime, bombs fly, dirty billions are pocketed, and McCain is leading (leading now!) in the polls.

    I don’t believe lasting bliss will never be found in the mirages and mantras of magical thinking — but that it can be the natural consequence of truth, action, and positively changing circumstances.

  19. Can we still comment on this? You brought up apathy. I would like to go back to your childhood when the Viet Nam War was raging. In the beginning years of that war people were apathetic. Then as it drug on and the number of dead kept rising, and the draft kept taking the young men people began to turn against it. Dan Rather was on the front lines with bullets flying past his head and we watched during our evening meal as they brought back the flag drapped caskets. The National Geographic magazine devoted a whole issue to it in the late sixties. I feel the real turning points were the running child with her clothes burned off and the frail little man getting his head blown off ON CAMERA! We all said stop the war, NOW. Stop the draft NOW! I am not for the draft but if we had one there would be a whole lot more war protesting going on. Also if we got the graphic news from Iraq there would be an uproar. Our press has failed us. Will we ever get back our free press? Much of our apathy is just plain ignorance about what is going on.

  20. Another post that hit me in the gut, Jane. In a good way. I think it was John who said something about an onion in another comment, and how you’re good at peeling the layers. You are incredibly good at that, and make me think about things I’ve never thought of, or think about them in a new way.

  21. Dear Jane, What an amazing post. Like another reader said, this is a thought I’ve had….I’ve tried pathetically to express it on the odd occasion…but you’ve nailed it completely. A therapist once gave me a set of cards by Jerry and Esther Hicks and asked for my feedback. I told her they were very dangerous and I would strongly encourage her to think twice before giving them to any of her other patients. While many of them were beautiful and inspirational…there were some like this: “Nothing Happens Without My Having Invited It”. I told her that I was pretty sure I hadn’t invited my bone marrow disorder….and certainly hadn’t invited it to transition into acute leukemia. I was generally a happy, positive person without a DEATHWISH! If the universe needed to give me such an enormous kick in the ass, I truly wish it would have chosen some other means. Believe me, I’ve spent some tortured hours wondering what it is I’ve done – in this life or another — that deserved this level of punishment…wondering why God or the universe hated me so much.

    I’ve decided to stop blaming myself and I try my best to cut off this type of thinking if it tries to get a foothold in my mind again.

    I agree with your point about the pervasiveness of this kind of thinking in our culture….it’s seeping insidiously into the zeitgeist as we speak.

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful analysis and commentary on this important topic.

  22. hmmm I had to read this several times to absorb it. IT is funny, I have all those feelings of guilt and then some, for example, I have often felt that I brought things on like I was asked for years to name something I liked about myself, and I would say my smile so I got hit in the face and a tooth knocked out and I thought that I brought that on somehow by my vanity. Or I would be thankful for something, like at least I don’t have to deal with a chronic disease and then I was diagnosed….I don’t have the words to say the kind of depression that this has brought into my life but your article is dead on about it

  23. Dear Jane,
    Here is the recent pole info- not a secret,with the exception of the conservative owned media
    Mcain is sinking faster then the titanic, and I have much faith that the debate on the 26th, will be the much needed reality check for many who are still mesmerized by the “perfect happy ” soccer mom.
    How come your writing is not in a magazine or a weekly column??
    oh- I would add onto your general theme of no “not happy allowed”- that no feelings the veer from what is “acceptable” allowed.
    Hey what was your therapists response to your logical follow through on deranged gunman shooting her or her daughter??
    Did The Secret have an answer for that????

  24. MaryBeth,

    I wish McCain would sink, and I hope you’re right about the debate. My favorite site to check the stats is this one:


    It shows results from several places — and today they’re very close — too close for comfort!

    The therapist first tried to defend her theory, but then admitted it wasn’t all that defensible. I think my new “getting to know you” question will be “Have you read the Secret? What did you think?” :-)



    That is so true. There’s a lot of self-berating in magical thinking, and it IS depressing!

    Beautifully put, Melissa!

    Ann, your question about the press is one I have been most concerned with in the Bush years. Everything is opinion and commentary now, outside of a few die-hard publications. The other thing is the manipulation of info by Bush, e.g., denying reporters access. How can we know the truth when it’s hidden?


    Off to work with me. Wish it was writing a column! New article up tomorrow!

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