As a proponent of cheerfulness and contentment, I felt obligated to read Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. She has not persuaded me to turn into a fusspot, but I will give her credit for being about 40% right.
Ehrenreich sees "positive thinking" as a kind of popular magic. At its loonier end, it claims that by simply visualizing what you want, you can make it come to you through the "law of attraction."
She finds the roots of today's positive thinking in the New Thought of the 19th century, which gave us Christian Science, the Unity Church, and the many kinds of mind cure. In the 20th century the focus shifted from envisioning health to envisioning wealth, as the hard-working Horatio Alger boys turned into the Power of Positive Thinking Dale Carnegie followers.
Ehrenreich shows that milder versions of positive thinking are endemic to corporations, megachurches, and, especially, to entrepreneurs. Which made we wonder about positive thinking in academic life. I can't think of any professors who are big consumers of motivational books, videos, or live seminars. To say the phrase "I visualize my article published in the leading journal in my field" seems weird. I can't see one academic bucking another up with "If you picture yourself as a full professor, it will come to you; name it and claim it." That just isn't how we think. Academic life is based a strong expectation that results come from work. Sure, there are many irrational factors in an academic institution, especially the large ones. But I rarely hear professors attribute their successes or failures to their ability to adjust their attitude right, which will attract success.
Academics really do believe in critical thinking, sometimes to excess. But the first great fruit of critical thinking is that we don't simply accept the magic of positive thinking.