The Power of Positive Thinking

In 1952 Prentice-Hall published the first edition of ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ by the Reverend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

The Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
The Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale,
image Library of Congress

It stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 186 consecutive weeks, and the book has sold around 5 million copies and been translated into 15 languages. It is Peale’s most popular work, and the one for which he is best known.

It has influenced millions of people, but is not without its critics.

There are claims that the techniques described within the book rely on a kind of a damaging kind of self-hypnosis*. Others that the book is full of anecdotes that are unsubstantiated. Some go as far as stating that Dr. Peale was a con-man.

Whatever the merits of these assertions there can be no doubt that whilst Peale may well have been a showman, for example he hosted live radio broadcasts, he also did good works. Projects such as being one of the founders of 40 Plus, with J. C. Penny founder of J.C. Penney & Co.; Arthur Godfrey, a radio and TV personality; and Thomas J. Watson, President and Founder of IBM, owe much to him. 40 Plus aimed to find work for unemployed executives.

Perhaps the greatest criticism that may be levied against Peale is his habit in later years of supporting, or criticising, various politicians on the basis of their religious conviction. This strikes me as paradoxical behaviour for a positive thinker?

Whatever you may think about Norman Vincent Peale he certainly put ‘psychological positivity’ on the map, and it’s never really been obliterated from the public psyche since the publication of ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’.

Today, Positive Thinking is a much more scientific theory than that contained in Peale’s book. It’s backed by empirical evidence, and no longer espouses repetitive self-hypnosis as a necessary ingredient for change. Barbara Fredrickson, a researcher from the University of North Carolina, wrote a paper titled ‘Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources‘. In it she established that: ‘positive emotions, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms). In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.’

You Can Improve Your Health by
Writing Positively For Just Two Minutes Every Day

Chad M Burtona, and Laura A King, from Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, established that people who are instructed to write, and do write even if just for two minutes, about positive subjects perform better across a bank of health, personality, and psychological indices after three months than writers who chose their own topics and styles, (published in The Journal of Research in Personality).

A host of other research material is cited in these two papers that attests to the power of thinking positively.

When I practiced as a psychotherapist many I met became happier simply by stopping listening to the news on their radios first thing each morning.

Thinking optimistically is not to be confused with ‘The Law of Attraction’, which is a philosophy based upon the theory that like attracts like, and that focusing upon some object or goal is likely to bring it to fruition. Bold claims have been made for ‘The Law of Attraction’, but unfortunately many who are devotees of it still are to be found living in reduced circumstances. Whilst some have become disillusioned with ‘The Law’ others consider that it is they who lack sufficient focus to bring their desires to fruition.

This tautological way of thinking can only be associated with suffering. I know, ultimately, that the world cannot be other than how it is as it surrenders itself to you and I. For this reason it’s misguided to blame either self, or, others, for creating particular dreams of separation and the associated pains experienced because of them.

So why am I writing on this topic here? Quite simply I am prompted by a video I was sent by the noted Internet Millionaire, and also New York Times Best Selling Author, Jeff Walker. I detect within it a hint that he found himself working hard recently during one of his Mastermind Groups in Durango. The cause of his discomfort was a particularly negative member of the group who constantly dismissed the suggestions of Jeff, and other group members, as irrelevant.

I too have experienced negativity when presenting ideas to people, especially when speaking to those from a different country, or culture, from the one I was born into. Perhaps, not remarkably, when people have followed my suggestions their businesses seem to have benefited. I have even seen people who were openly hostile to my suggestions later come to adopt them when presented by members of their own communities.

At what stage do we withdraw ourselves from negative people and focus on those who are easier to help? Good business sense suggests that just as it’s best to sell to people who have an appetite for what we have to offer – so it’s best to counsel those who are positive about what we have to say.

In my model of the world, however, pragmatism also needs to be tempered with compassion. After all, the research shows that raising the moral and thought patterns of a negative individual may not only lead them into happiness, but also enable them to be healthier, wealthier people.

Compassion and acceptance play together as twins. When we attempt to change others we are doomed to failure because doing so reinforces our own dream of separateness. Acceptance of the world is a form of surrender from within which creativity reveals itself.

*Nothing herein should be taken to imply that self hypnosis is harmful. Critics, in particular psychiatrist R. C. Murphy, assert that Peale’s suggested method of repeated hypnosis defeats an individual’s self-motivation, self-knowledge, unique sense of self, sense of reality, and ability to think critically.

Comments ( 1 )
  • Ben Solomon says:

    Hey Stephen,

    More I spend time researching and learning about the human mind, there seems to be more evidence that positive thinking is better than negative thinking that we are exposed to day in day out in our lives. 

    Regardless of what anyone thinks, we are self-hypnotising ourselves everyday, I think we might as well make that positive rather than the default, which tends towards negative. 🙂

    Nice blog you have got going.

    Keep up the good work.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *