The Tyranny of Positive Thinking in Indian Corporations … Manipulating Optimism within but without Faith


Compulsivity towards Positive Thinking…

A few days ago, I was struggling to facilitate a dialogue within a team of HR managers in an offsite.

The BIRTH of POSITIVE THINKING in a land far far away …

It was Dale Carnegie who wrote ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ in the year 1936. I saw that volume gathering dust on my mother’s book shelf for several decades in the 1970s and 1980s — never saw either of my parents ever open this particular volume or talk about it. I guess it was one of those books that were gifted on birthdays and anniversaries from well-meaning colleagues or relatives. I later discovered that Dale Carnegie was originally a Carnagey but changed his name to match that of the famed industrialist Andrew Carnegie for more popularity and credibility — but hell, if Indira Gandhy could become Indira Gandhi — who am I to judge people searching for fame by manipulating their surname.

Calvinism, the Protestant Ethic, and Positive Thinking — Has anything really changed?

Ehrenreich drew my attention to the fact that Positive Thinking is very much akin to Calvinism and the Protestant Ethic.

  • She says that both the old religion and the new ideology of positive thinking insist on ‘WORK’ with self.
  • Both ideologies stress on the constant need / vigil for Self-monitoring — just as the Calvinist monitors his or her inner world for thoughts and feelings for signs of sin and self indulgence, the positive thinker is ever on the lookout for ‘negative feelings’.
  • Thus both ideologies deem that the Self is antagonist which one has to fight and wrestle endlessly throughout life.

The heart is, alas, never referred to!

Part 2

The Seduction of Positive Thinking as a Management Tool in USA …

It was not long before the clever businessman realized the immense potential of applying Positive Thinking in the corporate world. For all its claims, capitalistic societies were giving rise to new professions and new classes that were also experiencing loneliness and angst.

Positive Thinking & Positive Psychology — a bewitching and heady cocktail of religion, ideology, and pseudo-science

In 1997, Martin Seligman became the President of American Psychological Association and brought in the theme of ‘Positive Psychology’ or the study of ‘positive emotions and mindsets’, happiness, fulfilment and ‘flow’. Seligman legitimized the new science of happiness — there was even a journal of ‘Happiness Studies’ where articles and research linked happiness and optimism.

Positive psychologists were now selling happiness to large companies.

I have used the phrase — pseudo science in the section title, for it does seem that positive psychology suffers from physics envy when it chooses to offer complex equations including the one below:

  • H = f(S, C, V)

Positive Thinking & the Indian Context

It is amazing and I could never have believed it a few decades ago … but positive thinking has made major inroads into how the Indian manager thinks.

  1. Shringaram — all forms of love and beauty — deep intense love
  2. Haasyam — mirth and teasing, comic — some thinkers would call it a ‘coping mechanism’
  3. Raudram — rage on account of injustice and even nature’s wrath
  4. Karunayam — deep empathy and even sadness (not to be confused with sympathy)
  5. Bhibatsam — disgust and nausea
  6. Bhayanakam — anxiety and fear
  7. Veeryam — valor and courage
  8. Adbhutam — awe and wonder
  9. Shantam — tranquil and absolute bliss

Positive Thinking & the Corporate Denizen in India

Hypothesis 1

  1. This blog represents another chapter of my planned book on Politics and Power in Indian Organizations — another chapter is my blog on “Inter-generational conflict and the Yayati Complex”. If you liked reading this — do press ‘like’ — it would energize me further to write on the next 8 chapters.
  2. This blog is linked to my earlier blog on the Homo Reciprocan in the modern corporation today.
  3. Many of my thoughts in this blog are influenced by Ashok Malhotra who has been a teacher and a mentor. As per his latest researched book on the Indian manager and Organizations — Boons and Burdens, he speaks of the Universe of Belonging and Protection or the Clan universe — and how this is being increasingly devalued in Indian organizations.
  4. I must thank Dan Travis who introduced me to the work of Barbara Ehrenreich — Smile or Die — A critique of Positive Thinking. If you liked this blog, please read her book!



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Gagandeep Singh

Gagandeep Singh


I work in the realm of Organization Development and focus on transformation, alignment and culture. I am doing my doctoral research on Identity