In a nutshell: You can achieve anything if you have faith.
The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) has become linked with a Pollyanna-style attitude to the world that sees and hears no evil, and believes a happy smile can melt all obstacles. ‘Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better,’ is Emile Coué’s famous positive thinking mantra, which to most ears is superficial and even idiotic.
The realityHowever, Peale wrote: ‘This book is written with a deep concern for the pain, difficulty, and struggle of human existence. It teaches positive thinking, not as a means to fame, riches or power, but as the practical application of faith to overcome defeat and accomplish worthwhile creative values in life.’
These are not the ideas of someone with an unrealistic take on life. Peale saw plenty of human misery as a minister in New York City, but was not content to provide a weekly sermon; he wanted measurable change in the life of the 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 inside and outside his ministry.
The source of positive thinkingFor Peale, there was no greater source of personal power or guidance than the Bible. Biblical quotes are the mainstay of the book and perhaps because it is based on this timeless wisdom, it has amazing power. When statements such as the following are highlighted for us, it is difficult to argue with Peale’s conviction: ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31) ‘If thou can believe, all things are possible.’ (Mark 9:23)
Peale said we do not have to depend on ourselves as 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 provide would lead us to see life as flowing and abundant. To gain personal power and peace, we have to be willing to go beyond the personal to something greater than ourselves.
The book features cases and stories, filled with the struggle of humanity, to show defeat is not permanent. Some of the chapters are described below.
How to have constant energyThe knowledge that what one is doing is supported outside oneself and is serving a divine end, through attunement with the infinite, provides a constantly renewable source of energy. Working only for oneself leads to burnout.
Try prayer powerPrayer is a space 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 and visualize the good outcome. The Peale formula is: ‘Prayers, picturise, actualize.’
Expect the best and get itWe tend to expect the worst, but an expectation of the best has a way of organizing forces in our favour. The subconscious, which regulates many of our actions, merely reflects our beliefs. Alter the belief about an outcome and our actions will seem to be shaped to achieve it. Peale’s phrase is: ‘Doubt closes the power flow, faith opens it.’
New thoughts can remake youUse only positive and hopeful language for a 24-hour period. Then go back to being realistic the next day. Repeat this over a week and you find what you considered realistic a week ago now seems pessimistic. This new understanding of what is realistic moves up to a higher, permanently positive level.
Final commentsThe book’s principles are easily moved from their original time and place and applied to life. It is refreshing because there are no gimmicky techniques. Expect to find only a bag of well-worn tools for chiseling away cynicism and hopelessness.
Although the book contains things like a ‘prayer for salesmen, it is something more than a hotchpotch of Christian and capitalist morals. Consistent with most of the self-help classics, it says the highest morality is the fulfillment of potential: to give up is to deny yourself all the spiritual and material rewards that are rightfully yours.
In a similar vein
- Florence Scovell Shinn, The Game of Life and How to Play It (1925)
Norman Vincent PealePeale was born in Bowersville, Ohio, in 1898. He went to college in Ohio and worked on newspapers including the Detroit Journal, before studying theology at Boston University and becoming ordained.
In the 1930s he began a radio broadcast, The Art of Living, that was to be heard weekly for 54 years, and established a clinic of Christian psychotherapy with psychiatrist Smiley Blanton. In 1945 he established the inspirational magazine Guideposts.