Norman Vincent Peale

The Power of Positive Thinking

  • This summary of The Power of Positive Thinking includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

The Power of Positive Thinking Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.

Norman Vincent Peale’s self-help book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) utilizes a combination of practical methods and anecdotal evidence from successful case histories to explicate a strategy for positive thinking. Its main line of argument is that continuous, conscious positive thought can help cultivate a permanent sense of optimism. Peale advocates for affirmations and visualizations as the primary techniques for guiding the brain into an optimistic state, eventually optimizing one’s quality of life. The book is highly criticized by mental health scholars and professionals for relying largely on pseudoscience, religion, and shallow moralism. The Power of Positive Thinking is considered one of the first highly popularized self-help books for mass consumption.

Peale begins by listing ten rules that he states will help the individual “overcome inadequacy attitudes” and “learn to practice faith.” The first rule he states is to picture oneself as succeeding. This kind of behavior introduces a cognitive bias that ultimately helps to effect, in Peale’s view, the kind of achievement that one wants. The second is to drown out any negative thoughts that emerge by imagining oneself as succeeding. The third is to minimize the number and degree of obstacles in one’s way, actively considering which ones are unnecessary. The fourth recommendation is to stop trying to copy other people. The tendency to imitate causes one to be overly competitive and hyper-aware of perceived flaws. The fifth rule is to repeat the following mantra: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” ten times per day, cultivating a moralistic “us vs. them” psychology.

The sixth rule is to work with a counselor to resolve problems. The seventh is to repeat another religious mantra: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” again ten times per day. The seventh is to develop an enduring pattern of self-respecting behavior. The eighth is to affirm that God is ultimately piloting one’s life such that logically, nothing will go wrong. The ninth rule is more of an exhortation to believe that one receives power directly from God. The tenth and final rule is to maintain a peaceful mind.

Next, Peale explains how he believes one can obtain a sense of peace. Here, he advocates for using a mixture of inspirational reading, visualization, and clearing of the mind, asserting that these factors increase the amount and consistency of positive energy. He argues that this energy comes from God. He says further that the mind has full control over the feelings that the body experiences; therefore, relinquishing one’s attachments to negative mindsets will open these channels for God’s energy. Peale advocates for prayer, which he states has an intrinsic healing property. He claims that God’s energy heals both physical and emotional problems and helps individuals rebound from negative events. Next, he argues that happiness is a choice and that most obstacles are purely mental. Positive affirmations and clearing the mind are key to eliminating these.

In his closing chapters, Peale makes a case for letting go of anger, replacing the emotion with feelings of calmness. He ties this method to cases where he claims it alleviated symptoms of issues such as eczema. He gives a series of concrete examples about how to make oneself seem more likable. These include: remembering names, giving out profuse praise, becoming a “people person,” and quickly resolving problems once they are noticed. He concludes by giving advice on how to heal from heartache, offering the cures of prayer, meditation, routinization, and social interaction. He reiterates his religious message, emphasizing the importance of believing in and relying on a higher power in order to achieve a positive life. His epilogue exhorts readers to follow his techniques to live happier lives and states that he is praying for his audience.

Largely considered a moralistic and shallow work, The Power of Positive Thinking nevertheless became a hit in the United States, and is marked as an early indicator of consumer preferences for feel-good advice over empirical and scientific advice. Peale’s book is thus known for its setting of precedent over its content.