Peale, who served as the pastor of Marble Collegiate Church, New York, from 1932 until 1984, was best known as the author of the best-selling book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which he wrote in 1952. By the early 1950s the publishing climate for books like Peale’s was highly favorable. Publisher’s Weekly (January 23, 1954) noted that “the theme of religion dominates the non-fiction best-sellers in 1953,” including such works as The Power of Prayer on Plants and Pray Your Weight Away. The Power of Positive Thinking, was on the New York Times best-seller list for three years. It sold nearly 20 million copies and has been printed in 41 different languages (these claims are disputed).
During the 20th-century, Peale was one of the most influential clergymen in the United States. He developed a blend of psychotherapy and religion based on the idea that nearly all basic problems are personal. Peale preached the gospel of reassurance, self-assurance, and success despite ominous global threats. In “The Gospel of Optimism” and “The Apostle of Self-Esteem,” Peale taught that religious faith could be tapped to improve one’s material life and that a positive mental attitude and belief in oneself are as necessary as belief in God.
Peale took existing ideas from Christian Science and other inspirations, gave them a biblical veneer, integrated them with psychology, and packaged them for the masses, spreading his message through The Power of Positive Thinking and his other works. His foremost contribution to the world was this notion that thoughts are causative, that our thoughts can change our lives, our health, our destiny. Readers were thrilled with this notion that if they believed it, they could have it, or be it, or do it. To help with his parishioners’ many problems, Peale enlisted the aid of a psychiatrist and established a religio-psychiatric clinic; in 1951 that operation was organized as the nonprofit American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry (now the Blanton-Peale Institute and Counseling Center), with Peale acting as president.
By 1952 he and his wife were also on the new medium of television, featured on the show “What’s Your Trouble?” His two programs, What’s Your Trouble? and Positive Thinking with Norman Vincent Peale, on NBC were hugely popular during the “can do” Eisenhower era of the 1950s.