The power of positive thinking


The “Power of Positive Thinking” sold five million copies and was translated into 40 languages half a century ago. Even though I have not read the book, the title is appropriated for this column because negative thinking is now rampant. The silent power of positive thinking is needed more than any time in our lifetimes.

Headlines bury us in negativity of accusations, incidents, events and images, many old and distant about people we don’t know and events we did not control. Media, the arts and performances display horrific, macabre, apocalyptic displays that mirror the negative spirit of our time. All are presented to arouse negative emotions of anger, blame, guilt and depression. They batter the soul and wear us down.

Even predictions in rhetorical questions with conditional “will,” “could” or “might” lead to unpleasant conclusions. The focus is always on the half-empty glass rather than the full portion. An old farmer was asked, “Do you think it might rain?” His drool response, “It always does!” Those who focus only on the half-empty past, present and future will likely grow old fearful, anxious, frustrated — like grumpy old men.

Some foundation for positive thinking is necessary to anchor our lives inside this cyclone of negativity.

Norman Vincent Peale coined the phrase as a Methodist minister. A Christian worldview was his anchor. Humans are not just dust, but have been made in the image of God with unique abilities to reason and freedom to act as moral creatures. God transcends space and time and is the ultimate foundation for hope and ethics.

Other, non-theistic foundations exist. Epicurean hedonism counsels a nihilistic “eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we die.” Cynic disdain views the world as a stage on which we are players through old age. Shakespeare describes the final stage of life in As You Like It: “the end of this strange, eventful history — our hero, full of forgetfulness, enters his second childhood without teeth, without eyes, without taste, without everything.” Then, death! Stoic secular humanism presents a more positive foundation with stiff upper lip and moderation based on indifferent rational harmony.

Here are some steps toward more positive thinking.

• Recognize that what we focus on is an act of the will. As moral creatures, we are not the slaves of stimuli that bombard us. We can decide about what we attend to and how we will react. We are able to focus on the empty half or the full half. We can get angry and curse the referee’s damaging call without valuing the hundreds of calls the referee got right, including those officially challenged.

• Commit yourself to a worldview that promotes hope, peacefulness, love, joy, and actions to assist others and gives you hope for a positive future in this world and beyond. Then join with others who are so committed.

• Attend to relevant news articles, broadcasts and posts in order to be responsible citizens essential to a constitutional democracy.

• Associate with thoughtful, positive people who give thanks for the blessings they receive daily and who engage in positive actions to assist others.

• Do something good for your neighbors rather than expending time and effort ranting about things over which you don’t have any responsibility or control.

The power of positive living is the best antidote for negative thinking and spirit of our age. Bill Placher concluded his Wabash commencement speech: “The class of 1970 does not enter a world full of nothing but glorious opportunities. But perhaps we’ll learn that there are more things to admire in men than to despise; perhaps, knowing it will never be enough to change the world, we will act more honorable than we expected we would; perhaps we’ll have a lot of fun along the way. It wouldn’t be a bad life.”


Raymond B. Williams, Crawfordsville, LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities emeritus, contributed this guest column.


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