Positive thinking is at once the most influential and maligned philosophy in American life.
The positive-thinking outlook, which grew out of New England mental-healing experiments in the mid-nineteenth century, extols one key principle: thoughts are causative. Whether embraced or dismissed, this insight has reshaped our political campaigns ("Yes, we can"), advertising slogans ("Just Do It"), and cultures of therapy, business motivation, medicine, and self-help.
Most journalists and academics deride positive thinking, more properly known as New Thought, as a simpleton's philosophy of refrigerator-magnet bromides and page-a-day calendars. Yet few critics possess a real understanding of the positive-thinking movement's depth and background (and fewer still have read its literature).
In my new book, One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life [Crown, $24.00], I attempt to clarify the history and efficacy of positive thinking. Below I challenge seven widely held myths about this deeply influential thought movement.