AskDefine | Define positiveness

Dictionary Definition

positiveness n : characterized by dogmatic assertiveness [ant: negativeness]

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  1. The quality of being positive; positivity

Extensive Definition

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale (May 31, 1898December 24, 1993) was a Protestant preacher and author (most notably of the controversial The Power of Positive Thinking) and a progenitor of the theory of "positive thinking".


Peale was born in Bowersville, Ohio and died in Pawling, New York. He was educated at Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University School of Theology.
Raised as a Methodist and originally ordained as a Methodist minister in 1922, Peale changed his religious affiliation to the Reformed Church in America in 1932 and began a 52-year tenure as pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. During that time the church's membership grew from 600 to over 5000, and he became one of New York City’s most famous preachers.
Peale and Smiley Blanton, a psychoanalyst, established a religio-psychiatric outpatient clinic next door to the church. The two men wrote books together, notably Faith Is the Answer: A Psychiatrist and a Pastor Discuss Your Problems (1940). The book was written in alternating chapters, with Blanton writing one chapter, then Peale, and so on. Blanton espoused no particular religious point of view in his chapters. In 1951 this clinic of psychotherapy and religion grew into the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, with Peale serving as president and Blanton as executive director. Blanton handled difficult psychiatric cases and Peale, who had no mental health credentials, handled religious issues. (Meyer, Donald. The Positive Thinkers. Pantheon Books, 1965)
When Peale came under heavy criticism from the mental health community for his controversial book "The Power of Positive Thinking," (1952) Blanton distanced himself from Peale and refused to endorse the book. Blanton refused to allow Peale to use his name in "The Power of Positive Thinking," refused to publicly endorse the book, and refused to publicly defend Peale when he came under criticism for defrauding the public. As scholar Donald Meyer describes it: "Peale evidently imagined that he marched with Blanton in their joint labors in the Religio-psychiatric Institute. This was not exactly so." (Meyer, Donald. Positive Thinkers. Pantheon Books, 1965, p.266). Meyer notes that Blanton's own book, "Love or Perish, (1956), "contrasted so distinctly at so many points with the Peale evangel," of "positive thinking" that these works had virtually nothing in common. (Ibid.,p.273)
Peale started a radio program, "The Art of Living," in 1935, which lasted for 54 years. Under sponsorship of the National Council of Churches he moved into television when the new medium arrived. In the meantime he had begun to edit the magazine Guideposts and to write books. His sermons were mailed monthly.
During the depression Peale teamed with James Cash Penney, founder of J.C. Penney & Co.; Arthur Godfrey, the radio and TV personality; and Thomas J. Watson, President and Founder of IBM to form the first board of 40Plus, an organization that helps unemployed managers and executives.
In 1945, Dr. Peale, his wife, Ruth Stafford Peale, and Raymond Thornburg, a Pawling, New York businessman founded Guideposts magazine, a non-denominational forum for celebrities and ordinary people to relate inspirational stories. For its launch, they raised $1,200 from Frank Gannett, founder of the Gannett newspaper chain, J. Howard Pew, a Philadelphia industrialist and Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Peale was a prolific writer; The Power of Positive Thinking is by far his most widely read work. First published in 1952, it stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 186 consecutive weeks. The book has sold around 7 million copies ( and translated into several languages. Some of his other popular works include The Art of Living, A Guide to Confident Living, The Tough-Minded Optimist, and Inspiring Messages for Daily Living.
In 1947 Peale co-founded (along with educator Kenneth Beebe) The Horatio Alger Association. This organization aims to recognize and honor Americans who have been successful in spite of difficult circumstances they have faced.
Other organizations founded by Peale include the Peale Center, the Positive Thinking Foundation and Guideposts Publications, all of which aim to promote Peale's theories about positive thinking.
In 1960 Peale, as spokesman for 150 Protestant clergymen, opposed the election of John F. Kennedy as president. "Faced with the election of a Catholic," Peale declared, "our culture is at stake. (The Religious Issue: Hot and Getting Hotter. Newsweek. Sept 19, 1960.) In a written manifesto Peale and his group also declared JFK would serve the interests of the Catholic church before the interests of the United States: "It is inconceivable that Roman Catholic president would not be under extreme pressure by the hierarchy of his church to accede to its policies with respect to foreign interests," and that the election of a Catholic might even end free speech in America.(The Religious Issue: Hot and Getting Hotter: Newsweek, Sept. 19, 1960. Buckley, William F. "We Hold These Truths." National Review. Jan. 28, 1961). Protestant theologian Reinhold Neibuhr responded "Dr. Peale and his associates... show blind prejudice." (The Religious Issue: Getting Hotter and Hotter: Newsweek. Sept 19, 1960). Protestant Episcopal Bishop James Pike echoed Neibuhr: "Any argument which would rule out a Roman Catholic just because he is Roman Catholic is both bigotry and a violation of the constitutional guarantee of no religious test for public office." ("The Power Of Negative Thinking." Time. Sept. 19, 1960). The Peale statement was further condemned by President Truman, the Board of Rabbis, and other leading Protestants such as Paul Tillich and John C. Bennett. (Ibid.) Peale was forced to recant his statements and subsequently fired by his own committee. As conservative William F. Buckley succinctly described the fallout: "When... The Norman Vincent Peale Committee was organized, on the program that a vote for Kennedy was a vote to repeal the First Amendmant to the Constitution, the Jesuits fired their Big Bertha, and Dr. Peale fled from the field, mortally wounded." (National Review. "We Hold These Truths." January 28, 1961). Peale subsequently went into hiding and threatened to resign from his church. (New York Times. "Beliefs." Oct. 31, 1992). The fallout continued as Peale was condemned in a statement by one hundred religious leaders and dropped as a syndicated columnist by a dozen newspapers. (Ibid). The uproar caused the pastor to back off from further formal partisan commitments, possibly to avoid offending part of the mass audience for his primary religio-psychological message. He was, however, politically and personally close to President Nixon's family. In 1968 he officiated at the wedding of Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower. He continued calling at the White House throughout the Watergate crisis, saying "Christ didn't shy away from people in trouble.
Peale is also best remembered in politics by the famous Adlai Stevenson quote: "I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling." The origin of the quote can be traced to the 1952 election, when Stevenson was informed by a reporter that Peale had been attacking him as unfit for the presidency because he was divorced. (Former Senate candidate Ed Garvey in his blog Later during the 1956 campaign for President against Eisenhower, Stevenson was somewhat rudely introduced in the following way: "Gov. Stevenson, we want to make it clear you are here as a courtesy because Dr. Norman Vincent Peale has instructed us to vote for your opponent." Stevenson stepped to the podium and quipped, "Speaking as a Christian, I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling." In 1960 Stevenson was asked by a reporter for a comment regarding Peale attacking JFK as unfit for the presidency because he was Catholic, to which Stevenson responded: "Yes, you can say that I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling." (Political commentator Tom Roeser
Stevenson continued to lampoon Peale on the campaign trail in speeches for JFK. Though Nixon and the Republicans tried to distance themselves from the furor caused by Peale's anti-Catholic stance, Democrats did not let voters forget. President Truman, for one, accused Nixon of tacit approval of the anti-Catholic sentiment, and it remained a hot issue on the campaign trail. (The Religious Issue: Hot and Getting Hotter: Newsweek. Sept. 19, 1960). Regarding Peale's intrusion into Republican politics, Stevenson said in this transcript of a speech given in San Francisco: "Richard Nixon has tried to step aside in favor of Norman Vincent Peale (APPLAUSE, LAUGHTER)... We can only surmise that Mr. Nixon has been reading 'The Power of Positive Thinking.' (APPLAUSE). America was not built by wishful thinking. It was built by realists, and it will not be saved by guess work and self-deception. It will only saved by hard work and facing the facts." ( - M).
At a later date, according to one report, Stevenson and Peale met, and Stevenson apologized to Peale for any personal pain his comments might have caused Peale, though he never publicly recanted the substance of his statements. There is no record of Peale apologizing to Stevenson for his attacks on Stevenson. IIt has been argued that even his "positive thinking" message was by implication politically conservative: "The underlying assumption of Peale's teaching was that nearly all basic problems were personal."
For his contributions to the field of theology, President Ronald Reagan awarded Peale the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor in the United States) on March 26, 1984. He died of stroke on December 24, 1993 at age 95.
He was also the subject of the 1964 film One Man's Way.
Peale was also a Scottish Rite Freemason (33°).


“Positive thinking,” as described by Peale could be broken down into a three step process of practicing repeated self-hypnosis, attaining “divine” or God’s power to use for oneself, and eliminating and avoiding all negativity in life.
The first step in positive thinking is focused on the use of repeated "techniques." Peale describes positive thinking as first and foremost as “simply a series of practical and workable techniques for living a successful life.”
Peale, who had no mental health credentials, was vague as to a definition of his "techniques," although he repeatedly stated that they were scientifically proven and "firmly established as documented and demonstrable truth." Mental health experts, however, clearly saw and identified the techniques as hypnosis. Hypnosis is defined as "A trance like state that resembles sleep but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted by the subject."
The reader was instructed through constant repetition of affirmations to bypass his conscious mind and implant suggestions into his unconscious mind where they would operate automatically, without the interference of conscious will. “Let them sink into your unconscious and they can help you overcome any difficulty. Say them over and over again. Say them until your mind accepts them, until you believe them – faith power works wonders.” Peale's readers were instructed to "pray ceaselessly," to use his techniques repetitively and permanently.
Peale promised the reader that if they followed and practiced his techniques, they could attain success over almost any adversity. “It is a power that can blast out all defeat and lift a person above all difficult situations.” Peale insisted that the only way to acquire these attitudes was through the unconscious and through his techniques. Peale repeatedly instructed his readers that their conscious will, their self knowledge, self determination, courage and intelligence were not be enough to live a successful life. He described these conscious acts of will as unreliable, untrustworthy and not sufficient to meet the demands of life. The conscious, self-determining self was to be rejected, disempowered and “surrendered,” so that Peale’s techniques and the unconscious were now the determining and motivating factors in the individual’s life.
The payoff for this rejection of self, according to Peale, was the attainment of God’s power, “I hereby draw power from You as an illimitable source,” is one Peale formula. Men now had superhuman powers, and God had now become "man's omnipotent slave." Peale further said that regular prayer was insufficient to meet the demands of life, that in order for prayer to really work the reader had to use his techniques. Peale said controlling the unconscious, using his techniques, was the only channel to attain God’s power. “Surface skimming, formalistic and perfunctory prayer is not sufficiently powerful” says Peale when describing his “prayers” for overcoming an inferiority complex. Formalistic prayer used for thousands of years by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other mainstream religions didn’t produce sufficient results according to Peale.
Peale also promised his readers that if they followed his techniques that they could always think positively and remove all negativity from their lives. Negative attitudes were not to be tolerated but avoided at all costs according to Peale. Negative thoughts were to be repressed, cancelled out and destroyed through his techniques. “It is important to eliminate from conversations all negative ideas, for they tend to produce annoyance and tension inwardly."
Peale’s readers were instructed to never doubt or question a statement Peale made or this would cut off the “power flow.” Any negative doubting of Peale or whether his techniques worked were to be immediately canceled, and the reader was instructed to immediately repeat the Peale phrases.
The Peale statements, and the words that made them up were actual “things” according to Peale. “Thoughts are things,” and the repetition of his phrases were more important than actions. Repeating positive only statements would cause only positive things to happen. But according to Peale, the reverse is also true. Thinking negatively causes negative things to happen. Thus the fear of negativity, of avoiding all negative, fearful "thoughts" and realities is part and parcel of positive thinking. There can be no positive thinking without this avoidance of negative thinking, according to Peale. “Never think of the worst. Drop it out of your thought, relegate it. Let there be no thought in your mind that the worst will happen. Avoid entertaining the concept of the worst, for whatever you take into your mind can grow there.”

Criticism and controversy

Peale's works came under criticism from some theologians, mental health experts, scholars, and politicians, many of whom said Peale was a con man and a fraud. (Meyer, Donald. "Confidence Man." New Republic. July 11, 1955, pp. 8-10.) Critics appeared in the early 1950s after the publication of The Power of Positive Thinking.
One major criticism of The Power of Positive Thinking is that the book is full of anecdotes that are hard to substantiate. Almost all of the experts and many of the testimonials that Peale quotes as supporting his philosophy are unnamed, unknown. Examples include a "famous psychologist,", a two-page letter from a "practicing physician," another famous psychologist, a "prominent citizen of New York City," and dozens, if not hundreds, more unverifiable quotations. Similar scientific studies of questionable validity are also cited. As psychiatrist R. C. Murphy exclaimed "All this advertising is vindicated as it were, by a strict cleaving to the side of part truth," and referred to the work and the quoted material as "implausible and woodenly pious." much like the Jesuits of the Catholic Church.
Peale asserts that practicing his "techniques" will give the reader absolute self confidence and deliverance from suffering. Several critics, in turn, assert that the repetitive "techniques" are actually a well known form of hypnosis (autosuggestion), hidden under a thin guise with the use of terms which may sound more benign from the reader's point of view ("techniques", "formulas," "methods," "prayers," and "prescriptions.") Some mental health contemporaries contend that in this way Peale practices deception, and that the constant self-hypnosis could be injurious to the reader. Constant repetitions of auto-suggestions in the mind may interfere with clear thinking, undermining independent thought on the matters of self and religion to be found in the works.
Psychiatrist R.C. Murphy writes "Self knowledge, in Mr. Peale's understanding is unequivocally bad: self hypnosis is good." Murphy adds that the repeated hypnosis defeats an individual's self motivation, self knowledge, unique sense of self, sense of reality, and the ability to think critically. Murphy calls Peale's understanding of the mind inaccurate, "without depth," and Peale's description of the workings of the mind and the unconscious mind as deceptively simplistic and false: "It is the very shallowness of his concept of 'person' that makes his rules appear easy . . . If the unconscious of man... can be conceptualized as a container for a small number of psychic fragments, then ideas like 'mind-drainage' follow. So does the reliance on self-hypnosis, which is the cornerstone of Mr. Peale's philosophy.'"
A third major criticism is that Peale's philosophy is based on exaggerating the fears of his readers and followers, and that this exaggerated fear inevitably leads to aggression and the destruction of those considered "negative." Peale's views are critically reviewed in a 1955 article by psychiatrist R. C. Murphy, published in The Nation, titled "Think Right: Reverend Peale's Panacea." "With saccharine terrorism, Mr. Peale refuses to allow his followers to hear, speak or see any evil. For him real human suffering does not exist; there is no such thing as murderous rage, suicidal despair, cruelty, lust, greed, mass poverty, or illiteracy. All these things he would dismiss as trivial mental processes which will evaporate if thoughts are simply turned into more cheerful channels. This attitude is so unpleasant it bears some search for its real meaning. It is clearly not a genuine denial of evil but rather a horror of it. A person turns his eyes away from human bestiality and the suffering it evokes only if he cannot stand to look at it. By doing so he affirms the evil to be absolute, he looks away only when he feels that nothing can be done about it.... The belief in pure evil, an area of experience beyond the possibility of help or redemption, is automatically a summons to action: 'evil' means 'that which must be attacked . . .' Between races for instance, this belief leads to prejudice. In child-rearing it drives parents into trying obliterate rather than trying to nurture one or another area of the child's emerging personality . . . In international relationships it leads to war. As soon as a religious as a religious authority endorses our capacity for hatred, either by refusing to recognize unpleasantness in the style of Mr Peale or in the more classical style of setting up a nice comfortable Satan to hate, it lulls our struggles for growth to a standstill . . . Thus Mr Peale's book is not only inadequate for our needs but even undertakes to drown out the fragile inner voice which is the spur to inner growth." " The mastery Peale speaks of is not the mastery of skills or tasks, but the mastery of fleeing and avoiding one's own "negative thoughts." Meyer writes this exaggerated fear inevitably leads to aggression:"[B]attle it is; Peale, in sublime betrayal of the aggression within his philosophy of peace, talks of 'shooting' prayers at people.".


The Rev. Billy Graham said at the National Council of Churches on June 12, 1966 that "I don't know of anyone who had done more for the kingdom of God than Norman and Ruth Peale or have meant anymore in my life for the encouragement they have given me."
Upon hearing of Dr. Peale's death, U.S. President Bill Clinton had this to say: The name of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale will forever be associated with the wondrously American values of optimism and service. Dr. Peale was an optimist who believed that whatever the antagonisms and complexities of modern life brought us, that anyone could prevail by approaching life with a simple sense of faith. And he served us by instilling that optimism in every Christian and every other person who came in contact with his writings or his hopeful soul. In a productive and giving life that spanned the 20th century, Dr. Peale lifted the spirits of millions and millions of people who were nourished and sustained by his example, his teaching, and his giving. While the Clinton family and all Americans mourn his loss, there is some poetry in his passing on a day when the world celebrates the birth of Christ, an idea that was central to Dr. Peale's message and Dr. Peale's work. He will be missed.
Evangelist Robert Schuller has praised him, too.



  • Dr.Ernest Holmes founder of the Religious Science movement was a mentor to Peale.
  • Peale took several of Holmes' Foundation classes (New Thought).Tag line of Class, "Change your thinking, change your life".
  • Modern televangelist and minister Robert H. Schuller was mentored by Peale. Like Peale, Schuller has also authored many religious self-help books, including Move Ahead With Possibility Thinking (1973).

Cultural references

A selection of his books

  • The Power of Positive Thinking, Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (August 1, 1996). ISBN 0-449-91147-0
  • Guide to Confident Living, Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (September 1, 1996). ISBN 0-449-91192-6
  • Six Attitudes for Winners, Tyndale House Publishers; (May 1, 1990). ISBN 0-8423-5906-0
  • Positive Thinking Every Day : An Inspiration for Each Day of the Year, Fireside; (December 6, 1993). ISBN 0-671-86891-8
  • Positive Imaging, Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (September 1, 1996). ISBN 0-449-91164-0
  • You Can If You Think You Can, Fireside Books; (August 26, 1987). ISBN 0-671-76591-4
  • Thought Conditioners, Foundation for Christian; Reprint edition (December 1, 1989). ISBN 99910-38-92-2
  • In God We Trust: A Positive Faith for Troubled Times, Thomas Nelson Inc; Reprint edition (November 1, 1995). ISBN 0-7852-7675-0
  • Norman Vincent Peale's Treasury of Courage and Confidence, Doubleday; (June 1970). ISBN 0-385-07062-4
  • My Favorite Hymns and the Stories Behind Them, Harpercollins; 1st ed edition (September 1, 1994). ISBN 0-06-066463-0
  • The Power of Positive Thinking for Young People, Random House Children's Books (A Division of Random House Group); (December 31, 1955). ISBN 0-437-95110-3
  • The Amazing Results of Positive Thinking, Fireside; Fireside edition (March 12, 2003). ISBN 0-7432-3483-9
  • Stay Alive All Your Life, Fawcett Books; Reissue edition (August 1, 1996). ISBN 0-449-91204-3
  • "You Can Have God's Help with Daily Problems" FCL Copyright 1956-1980 LOC card #7957646
  • Faith Is the Answer: A Psychiatrist and a Pastor Discuss Your Problems, Smiley Blanton and Norman Vincent Peale, Kessinger Publishing (march 28, 2007), ISBN 1432570005 (10), ISBN 978-1432570002 (13)
  • Power of the Plus Factor, A Fawcett Crest Book, Published by Ballantine Books, 1987, ISBN 0-449-21600-4


positiveness in Bulgarian: Норман Винсънт Пийл
positiveness in German: Norman Vincent Peale
positiveness in Modern Greek (1453-): Νόρμαν Βίνσεντ Πήιλ
positiveness in Spanish: Norman Vincent Peale
positiveness in Indonesian: Norman Vincent Peale
positiveness in Portuguese: Norman Vincent Peale
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