Born in Bowersville, Ohio, USA, on May 31 1898, Norman Vincent Peale grew up helping support his family by delivering newspapers, working in a grocery store, and selling pots and pans door to door, but later was to become one of the most influential clergymen in the United States during the 20th-century.
He was educated at Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University. He was a reporter on the Findlay, Ohio, Morning Republic prior to entering the ministry and went on to author some 40 books. Ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1922, Peale served as pastor at a succession of churches that included Berkeley, Rhode Island (1922–24), Brooklyn, New York (1924–27), and Syracuse, New York (1927–32) before changing his affiliation to the Dutch Reformed Church so that he could become pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City (1932–84). There he gained fame for his sermons on a positive approach to modern living, which were regularly broadcast, first on radio and later on television. The church had 600 members when he arrived to pastor in 1932; it had over 5,000 by the time he retired in 1984. In 1969 and 1970 he was president of the Reformed Church in America.
Peale confessed that as a youth he had “the worst inferiority complex of all,” and developed his positive thinking/positive confession philosophy just to help himself. In 1937, Peale established a clinic with Freudian psychiatrist Dr. Smiley Blanton in the basement of the Marble Collegiate Church. (Blanton brought with him the “extensive experience” of having undergone psychoanalysis by Freud himself in Vienna in 1929, 1935, 1936, and 1937.) The clinic was described as having “a theoretical base that was Jungian, with a strong evidence of neo- and post-Freudianism” (Carol V.R. George, God’s Salesman: Norman Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking , p. 90). It subsequently grew to an operation with more than 20 psychiatric doctors and psychologically- trained “ministers,” and in 1951 became known as the American Foundation for Religion and Psychiatry. In 1972, it merged with the Academy of Religion and Mental Health to form the Institutes of Religion and Health (IRH). To his death, Peale remained affiliated with the IRH as president of the board and chief fund raiser. Indeed, Peale pioneered the merger of theology and psychology which became known as Christian Psychology.
Peale applied Christianity to everyday problems and is the person who is most responsible for bringing psychology into the professing Church, blending its principles into a message of “positive thinking.” Peale said, “through prayer you … make use of the great factor within yourself, the deep subconscious mind … [which Jesus called] the kingdom of God within you … Positive thinking is just another term for faith.” He also wrote, “Your unconscious mind … [has a] power that turns wishes into realities when the wishes are strong enough.”
His simple, optimistic, and dynamic sermons brought increasing numbers of parishioners and increasing fame to Peale. For 54 years Peale’s weekly radio program, “The Art of Living,” was broadcast on NBC. His sermons were mailed to 750,000 people a month. His life was subject of a 1964 movie entitled One Man’s Way.
In 1945, Peale and his wife started Guideposts magazine; its circulation now tops 4.5 million, the largest of any religious magazine. Peale also published several best-selling books, including
- The Art of Living (1937),
- Confident Living (1948),
- The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), sold more than 20 million copies in 41 languages. and
- This Incredible Century (1991). His most popular book, The Power of Positive Thinking,
With his wife, Ruth, Peale founded the Foundation for Christian Living in 1945. He died on December 24, 1993, at 95. Ruth carries on the work they began.
His popular quotations:
- When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.
- Drop the idea that you are Atlas carrying the world on your shoulders. The world would go on even without you. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
- Those who are fired with an enthusiastic idea and who allow it to take hold and dominate their thoughts find that new worlds open for them. As long as enthusiasm holds out, so will new opportunities.
- It is of practical value to learn to like yourself. Since you must spend so much time with yourself you might as well get some satisfaction out of the relationship.
- Joy increases as you give it, and diminishes as you try to keep it for yourself. In giving it, you will accumulate a deposit of joy greater than you ever believed possible.
- Believe it is possible to solve your problem. Tremendous things happen to the believer. So believe the answer will come. It will.
- Never talk defeat. Use words like hope, belief, faith, victory.
- Watch your manner of speech if you wish to develop a peaceful state of mind. Start each day by affirming peaceful, contented and happy attitudes and your days will tend to be pleasant and successful.
- The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.
- A positive mental attitude is a belief that things are going to turn out well, and that you can overcome any kind of trouble or difficulty.
- The tests of life are not meant to break you, but to make you.
- Live your life and forget your age.
- If there is no fun in it, something is wrong with all you are doing.
- Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.