Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was born in 1898 in southwestern Ohio. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and later received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boston University’s School of Theology. Peale then attended Syracuse University where he received a doctorate. After serving ten years as a clergyman in New York, Peale became the pastor of New York City’s Marble Collegiate Church where he stayed for 52 years through the depression and world war two until his retirement in 1984. Throughout his career as a pastor, Peale wrote over 40 books, became a sought-after motivational speaker, started weekly radio and television shows, organised the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry with psychiatrist Smiley Blanton, and co-founded the spiritual newsletter “Guideposts”with his wife, Ruth Stafford Peale.
In March 1984, Peale was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan.“Few Americans have contributed so much to the personal happiness of their fellow citizens as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale” Reagan said. President Donald Trump has referred to Peale as his “pastor” and “one of the greatest speakers” he has ever seen. Trump grew up hearing Peale’s teachings from his parents, Fred and Mary Trump, who would travel to the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan to hear Peale’s sermons. Peale officiated at Trump’s first wedding and Trump has credited his survival in 1990 after bankruptcy to Peale’s teachings.
“The Power of Positive Thinking”was published in October 1952. It remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 186 weeks, 48 of which as the best-selling work of non-fiction. The book sold more than 5 million copies worldwide and was eventually translated into over 40 languages. Along with“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie (1936) and “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill (1937),it is one of the original 20th century self-help classics and is still popular today.
Peale introduces “The Power of Positive Thinking” by stating that the book is written to “suggest techniques and give examples to demonstrate that you do not need to feel defeated by anything, that you can have peace of mind, improved health and energy. While not ignoring or minimising the hardships and tragedies of the world, neither should they be allowed to dominate. “Believe in yourself. Have faith in your abilities.” he writes“Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy. But with self-confidence you can succeed. A sense of inferiority and inadequacy interferes with the attainment of your hopes, but self-confidence leads to realisation and successful achievement.”Among the rules he puts forward for “overcoming inadequacy attitudes and learning to practice faith” are picturing yourself succeeding rather than building up obstacles in your imagination,thinking positive thoughts to drown out negative ones, not comparing yourself to others or attempting to copy others, developing self-respect, affirming that you are in God’s hands and believing that you receive power from God.
“The life of inner peace, being harmonious and without stress, is the easiest type of existence” he writes. This can be achieved by practicing emptying the mind of fears, hates, insecurities, regrets, and guilt feelings. After you have emptied your mind of all the old, unhappy thoughts immediately start refilling it with creative and healthy thoughts. Take an inventory of all the things you have going for you and begin to really appreciate your assets: good health, family, friends, shelter, food, income, transportation, intelligence etc. “Think of the factors supporting you. Not of those opposing you.” he writes
“You only lose energy when life becomes dull in your mind” Peale writes “Your mind gets bored and therefore tired doing nothing. You don’t have to be tired. Get interested in something. Get absolutely enthralled in something. Throw yourself into it with abandon. Get out of yourself. Be somebody. Do something. Don’t sit around moaning about things, reading the papers and saying, “Why don’t they do something?” The man who is out doing something isn’t tired. If you’re not getting into good causes, no wonder you are tired. You’re disintegrating. You’re deteriorating. You’re dying on the vine. The more you lose yourself, the more energy you will have. You won’t have time to think about yourself and get bogged down in your emotional difficulties”
Ultimately, he says, the source of energy of every great person he has known is attunement with the Infinite. The knowledge that what one is doing is supported outside oneself and is serving a divine end, provides a constantly renewable source of energy. Working only by oneself and for oneself leads to burnout. The mind controls how the body feels. Thus, letting go of negative energy and emotions will give infinite energy through God. Turning to the power of prayer he advises to say whatever is on your mind, in whatever language you choose. Instead of asking for things, give thanks in advance for what you desire, leave it in God’s hands, and hope for the good outcome.
Peale provides some very specific problem-solving tips. Believe that for every problem there is a solution. Keep calm because your brain cannot operate efficiently under stress. Don’t try to force an answer. Keep your mind relaxed so that the solution will open up and become clear. Assemble all the facts, impartially, impersonally, and judicially and list these facts on paper. This clarifies your thinking. You see as well as think. The problem becomes objective, not subjective. Trust in the faculty of insight and intuition. Believe in your own ability to come up with a satisfactory solution. Don’t get paralysed by focusing on the idea that you must have the “perfect” or the”best” solution. Probably several solutions would somehow work out.
Critics of “The Power of Positive Thinking” have argued that Peale has a “Pollyana-ish” attitude to the world – one that sees no evil and hears no evil and believes a happy smile can melt all obstacles. However, what we actually see is that it was written with deep concern for the pain, difficulty and struggle of human existence. It was not a tool to get rich or famous. Its aim was to foster “the practical application of faith to overcome defeat and accomplish worthwhile creative values in life”. Peale saw plenty of human misery in his daily life as a minister in New York City, but he was not content to provide a weekly sermon. He wanted measurable change in the life of people he met. Over many years, he created a “simple yet scientific system of practical techniques for successful living that works”, tested and refined among thousands of people in and outside his ministry. The book proceeds by cases and stories, some of them incredibly touching. Filled with the struggle of humanity, its aim is to show that defeat is not permanent. The overriding theme is that we don’t have to depend on ourselves. There are incredible sources of power open to us if we only believe in their existence. We make life hard, but an appreciation of the universe’s ability to make good and to provide will lead us to see life as flowing and abundant. Life seems difficult because we only believe in ourselves. Ultimately the great secret of self-help is that in order to gain personal power and peace, we have to be willing to go beyond the merely personal to something greater than ourselves.
It has been said that if it were not for his wife’s persistence“The Power of Positive Thinking ”might never have been published. He was in his fifties when he wrote it and had received nothing but rejections. Dejected, he threw the manuscript into a wastebasket and forbade his wife to remove it. She took him literally. Next day, she presented the manuscript (still inside the wastebasket) to a publisher who accepted it. Positive thinking, perhaps?