Positive Thinking, Seriously

The power of positive thinking. It is a phrase first popularized in 1952 in the title of the mega-selling book by the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale. While outwardly a conservative Dutch Reform minister, Peale drew upon a metaphysical tradition with powerful and deep roots in America. Peale's concept of "positive thinking" grew from mystical and occult subcultures of the mid-19th century, whose adherents held that our thoughts had causative effects over our health, life circumstances and relationships.

Today, positive thinking is the closest America has to a national religion. It is the foundational idea of business motivation, mind-body medicine, prosperity ministering and much more. It permeates the speeches of figures from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Yet for the millions of Americans who embrace the gospel of the positive, millions more revile positive thinking as a cotton-candy pseudo-theology and an unrealistic response to life.

In the coming months, I'll be exploring the history and efficacy of positive thinking, which I probe in my forthcoming book, One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life (Crown, January 2014). As a longtime writer and publisher in the field of metaphysical literature, my position is that positive thinking holds far greater meaning and has a much richer history and impact than many of its critics suppose. The positive-thinking culture also has grave flaws, most them linked to superficial and overreaching ideas of the mind's power. But positive thinking as a concept -- psychologically, ethically and spirituality -- also abounds with unseen promise and possibility. Serious people need to give positive thinking a second look.

I recently explored some of this in a mini-documentary on the positive-thinking movement, directed by Ronni Thomas, creator of the award-winning web series, The Midnight Archive (which is now seen on the website of the Science Channel). Our video creation commences what we hope will be the start of a serious new discussion about the history, impact and meaning of positive thinking. It appears here.

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