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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Norman Vincent Peale’s Timeless Advice: Take Charge of Your Own Life, First

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale's ideas are especially important today, when envy and jealousy seem to permeate much of our politics.

Roger Higgins

“The more jealousy one has in his nature, the more critical he is of those who have accomplished things. If you are critical and mouthing negativisms it could be that your own failures are caused by a mixed-up, hate-filled mind.

A sign of mental health is to be glad when others achieve, and to rejoice with them. Never compare yourself or your achievements with others, but make your comparisons only with yourself. Maintain a constant competition with yourself. This will force you to attain higher standards and achievements.

Do not defeat yourself by holding spiteful or jealous thoughts. Think straight, with love, hope and optimism, and you will attain victory in life.”

– Dr. Norman Vincent Peale in Stay Alive All Your Life (1957).

In this hyper-politicized season of meanness, demagoguery, and class warfare, a little positive thinking is overdue, wouldn’t you say? The remarks above from the 20th century’s guru of positive thinking, Norman Vincent Peale, are especially appropriate at a time when envy and jealousy seem to be motivating a good deal of the political nastiness.

This year promises one of the dirtiest brawls in American history. So much seems to be at stake for all sides—namely, lots of power and money—that you can expect new lows in public discourse in coming months. The polarizing personalities who dominate our politics are partly responsible, but this is also a symptom of a larger problem.

As I explained here, big government is incompatible with good government. The bigger it gets, the rottener the process becomes if you want to climb what Disraeli called “the greasy pole.” And if its size and intrusiveness isn’t rolled back, we might soon find ourselves with the worst of both worlds: bad people running big government.

The Power of Positive Thinking

Born in Ohio, Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993) was ordained as a Methodist but moved on in 1932 to the Dutch Reformed Church. He pastored the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City for 52 years. He was a nationally known speaker, radio and television personality, and author of numerous books—his most famous being The Power of Positive Thinking. More than five million copies have sold since the first edition appeared in 1952.

Peale’s folksy philosophy of encouragement, optimism, and self-help drew more than a few detractors. Some in the psychology profession derided his perspective as unscientific and purely anecdotal, even a deleterious form of hypnotism. Perhaps they had a point, but I personally think much of that criticism was akin to taxi drivers objecting to competition from Uber.

When he dabbled in politics, Peale provoked even more controversy. In the 1950s, he spoke out against the idea of a Catholic president who might be swayed by pronouncements from the Vatican, presenting a problem of divided loyalties. He opposed Kennedy and supported Nixon in 1960 largely for that reason. When asked about that, Illinois governor and two-time presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson famously replied, “I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling.”

In 1984, President Reagan honored Peale by bestowing upon him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When Peale died on Christmas Eve 1993, President Bill Clinton remarked,

“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.”

Among the millions of admirers was Scott Adams, creator of the popular Dilbert comic strip, who credited Peale with inspiring him to a successful career.

Intentional Introspection

At the core of Peale’s message was a call to take charge of your life. Don’t let negativity, pessimism or victimology sap your potential. And don’t sit back and expect politicians to do for you what you can and should do for yourself. Here are a few of his comments along those lines:

  • “Believe that problems do have answers. Believe that they can be overcome. Believe that they can be handled. And finally, believe that you can solve them.”
  • “People become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do things. When they believe in themselves they have the first secret of success.”
  • “Change your thoughts and you can change the world.”
  • “When obstacles or difficulties arise, the positive thinker takes them as creative opportunities. He welcomes the challenge of a tough problem and looks for ways to turn it to advantage.”
  • “No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see the possibilities, always see them, for they’re always there.”
  • “Problems are to the mind what exercise is to the muscles; they toughen and make strong.”
  • “Never talk defeat. Use words like hope, belief, faith, victory.”
  • “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”

Introspection is an attribute in short supply these days, especially during a heated political campaign. It’s another word for self-examination, the ability to look upon oneself as others may see you. It tends to make one humble enough to see one’s own shortcomings, which is the first step to fixing them. Serious introspection can be an antidote to vanity. And Lord knows the vanity in politics is bottomless!

Don’t Rely on Politicians

Millions are suckered by vain politicians seeking power by telling others, “You’re a victim and I’ll be your savior. You can’t do it without me.”

Norman Vincent Peale would not be amused, to which these quotes attest:

  • “One of the greatest moments in anybody’s developing experience is when he no longer tries to hide from himself but determines to get acquainted with himself as he really is.”
  • “Empty pockets never held anyone back…it’s only empty heads and empty hearts that do it.”
  • “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”
  • “Even people who have a long record of not succeeding can be turned into tremendous achievers if they will discard their images of themselves as failures.”
  • “Our happiness depends on the habit of mind we cultivate. So practice happy thinking every day. Cultivate the merry heart, develop the happiness habit, and life will become a continual feast.”

The “positive thinking” of Norman Vincent Peale is both timely and timeless. Politics overpromises and disappoints but self-improvement produces a calm satisfaction that you accomplished something through your own initiative.

Politics rarely make a better you; YOU are the one who can most effectively do that.

Illegitimi non carborundum.

  • Lawrence W. Reed is FEE's President Emeritus, having previously served for nearly 11 years as FEE’s president (2008-2019). He is also FEE's Humphreys Family Senior Fellow and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty. His Facebook page is here and his personal website is