Peale Promotes the Power of Positive Thinking

Reformed Church of America pastor Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, which combines Christian teachings with modern psychology, is a self-help classic and an international best seller.

Summary of Event

In 1932, Norman Vincent Peale began a fifty-two-year tenure as the popular minister of Marble Collegiate Church Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, a church with a membership that eventually grew to more than five thousand people. Peale’s sermons attracted even tourists. In 1937, in the church’s basement, Peale and psychiatrist Smiley Blanton established a nonsectarian clinic of Christian psychotherapy, which became the American Foundation for Religion and Psychiatry American Foundation for Religion and Psychiatry in 1951. Power of Positive Thinking, The (Peale)
Self-help books[Self help books]
[kw]Peale Promotes the Power of Positive Thinking (1952)
[kw]Power of Positive Thinking, Peale Promotes the (1952)
[kw]Positive Thinking, Peale Promotes the Power of (1952)
Power of Positive Thinking, The (Peale)
Self-help books[Self help books]
[g]North America;1952: Peale Promotes the Power of Positive Thinking[03700]
[g]United States;1952: Peale Promotes the Power of Positive Thinking[03700]
[c]Psychology and psychiatry;1952: Peale Promotes the Power of Positive Thinking[03700]
[c]Religion, theology, and ethics;1952: Peale Promotes the Power of Positive Thinking[03700]
[c]Philosophy;1952: Peale Promotes the Power of Positive Thinking[03700]
Peale, Norman Vincent
Peale, Ruth Stafford
Fillmore, Charles S.
Blanton, Smiley
Holmes, Ernest

Blanton had received extensive analysis under Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis Psychoanalysis , and his participation in the clinic helped it integrate post-Freudianism and the theories of one of Freud’s most famous students, Carl Jung, with Peale’s Christian faith and teachings. The psychiatrists and ministers of the clinic strove to help people deal with the pressures of contemporary life.

The union of Christian spiritual traditions and scientific thought would form the foundation of Peale’s most popular book, The Power of Positive Thinking: Ten Traits for Maximum Results (1952), an inspirational self-help work. The manuscript was originally rejected by publishers, and Peale even had thrown it into a wastebasket. Ruth Stanford Peale, his wife and also an author and religious leader, retrieved the discarded manuscript and submitted the work to a publisher who decided to publish it. The Power of Positive Thinking became an international best seller.

“Positive thinking” was a term coined by Charles S. Fillmore, who founded the Unity School of Christianity Unity School of Christianity , a mind-science movement that encouraged people to apply positive spiritual principles in their daily lives. Fillmore’s belief that people could achieve happiness through positive thoughts greatly influenced Peale. Another major influence on Peale was Ernest Holmes, founder of the Religious Science movement Religious Science movement . Often called the first “religious scientist,” Holmes believed that by applying the principles of the rational universe, individuals could gain self-knowledge. Holmes’s Creative Mind
Creative Mind (Holmes) (1919) became a guide to exploring the innate creative powers of the human mind.

According to Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking was written to help readers deal with everyday problems and achieve happy lives. Peale’s goal is for readers to seek neither fame nor wealth, but personal peace, high self-esteem, and creative values. The practical techniques described in the book apply the power of simple faith and prayerful exercises to change negative thoughts into positive thinking.

The Power of Positive Thinking contains seventeen chapters, each with a specific challenge or goal. Some chapters address personal development and relationships (“How to Create Your Own Happiness,” “How to Get People to Like You,” “Believe in Yourself,” “Power to Solve Personal Problems,” “Stop Fuming and Fretting,” “How to Break the Worry Habit,” “I Don’t Believe in Defeat,” “Expect the Best and Get It,” “Prescription for Heartache,” “Inflow of New Thoughts Can Remake You”). Other chapters address power, energy, and heath (“How to Use Faith in Healing,” “When Vitality Sags,” “Try This Health Formula,” “How to Have Constant Energy,” “Relax for Easy Power,” “Peaceful Mind Generates Power,” “Try Prayer Power,” and “How to Draw on That Higher Power”).

Throughout The Power of Positive Thinking, Peale uses biblical quotes from both the Old and New Testaments as guidance. For example, in the chapter on breaking the worry habit, Peale uses the profound statement from Job 3:25 to show that if one constantly fears something, then one creates an environment for the fear to develop and grow. In the chapter teaching belief in oneself, Peale quotes Matthew 17:20, which states that nothing is impossible if one has faith. Peale believed that faith in God and oneself eliminates self-doubt and makes “good things” happen.

Peale also includes hundreds of fascinating anecdotes and stories of personal conversations and events to illustrate his ideas. In the chapter about a peaceful mind generating power, Peale relates the story of a religious service he conducted aboard an ocean liner to Honolulu. He suggested to passengers that they drop their worries overboard, out of their consciousness, and into the ocean to disappear. In the chapter on constant energy, Peale describes a conversation with the wife of Thomas A. Edison, who said her husband, after working long hours in his lab, could fall asleep easily and peacefully. After several hours, he would awaken, totally refreshed. His secret was that he was in total harmony with nature and his emotional stability gave him energy to relax completely.

The chapter about relaxing for easy power describes methods used by the American Foundation for Religion and Psychiatry’s clinic at Marble Collegiate Church. Many of the patients had physical impairments caused by mental illness, mostly anxiety and tension. At the clinic, patients would see a psychiatrist or counselor to attempt to discover the reasons for their behavior. Then patients would see a pastor, who applied the therapies of prayer, faith, and love.


Soon after The Power of Positive Thinking was published, many Christian fundamentalists criticized Peale for promoting the significance of psychology and optimism rather than hellfire and brimstone. Also, some liberal clergy called Peale a tool of capitalism. Even in the face of controversy, Peale’s most popular book remained on The New York Times best-seller list for 186 consecutive weeks and became a model for future self-help books.

Peale’s combination of positive thinking and prayer applied to everyday life appealed to mainstream American culture. The message’s simplicity and hopeful outlook were welcomed by a postwar population struggling to cope with daily life. Robert H. Schuller, a famous televangelist, credited Peale with having the greatest impact on his life. Peale’s positive thinking was the basis of Schuller’s “possibility thinking,” a technique in which God helps a person fulfill his or her dreams.

On March 26, 1984, U.S. president Ronald Reagan awarded Peale the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A commemorative thirty-fifth-anniversary edition of The Power of Positive Thinking (in audio form) was published in 1987 and sold more than 7 million copies and was translated into more than fifteen languages. Peale continued to host his popular weekly radio program until 1989. His Guideposts magazine, the Peale Center, and the Positive Thinking Foundation promoted his message of practical Christianity. Power of Positive Thinking, The (Peale)
Self-help books[Self help books]

Further Reading

  • Ellens, J. Harold, and Wayne G. Rollins, eds. Psychology and the Bible: A New Way to Read the Scriptures. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. A four-volume collection addressing the oft-dismissed topic of psychology and its relation to Christianity in general and the Bible specifically.
  • George, Carol. God’s Salesman: Norman Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. A complete scholarly account of Peale and Practical Christianity. Based on interviews with Peale and exclusive access to his private collection at Syracuse University. Illustrations, bibliography, index.
  • Gordon, Arthur. Norman Vincent Peale: Minister to Millions. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1958. An early biography by a magazine writer sent to investigate the hate campaign against Peale following the publication of The Power of Positive Thinking. Illustrations.
  • Peale, Norman Vincent. Norman Vincent Peale: An Inspiring Collection of Three Complete Books. New York: Wings Books, 1997. Includes Have a Great Day, Positive Imaging, and Treasury of Joy and Enthusiasm. A collection of popular books encouraging positive thinking for a happy life.
  • _______. The Power of Positive Thinking: Ten Traits for Maximum Results. 1952. New York: Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 2003. The classic best seller and self-help book.
  • _______. The True Joy of Positive Living: An Autobiography. New York: Morrow, 1984. A candid autobiography with anecdotes and personal thoughts about his childhood, career, religion, and the people in his life.
  • Ventrella, Scott W., and Norman Vincent Peale. The Power of Positive Thinking in Business: Ten Traits for Maximum Results. New York: Free Press, 2001. Based on extensive field testing and research, this book provides a systematic program for using positive psychology to attain success in business. Index.

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