Are you a practitioner of positive thinking? Or, do you roll your eyes when reading refrigerator magnets and Facebook posts of your optimistic friends? Either way, One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life by Mitch Horowitz presents an insightful history of positive thinking in America. Even skeptics can benefit from understanding the diverse pathways America’s enthusiasm for positive outcomes has traveled.
From mental healing, new religious movements, prosperity, business success, mega church growth, to the optimistic rhetoric used by all our successfully elected and re-elected Presidents since Ronald Reagan, the influence of positive thinking is witnessed.
Horowitz begins the history with a vigorous carriage ride in the countryside near Belfast, Maine and connects that event experienced in 1833 by Phineus Quimby to the public séances of Franz Anton Mesmer in Europe. The author's words provide an apt introduction:
Positive thinking entered the groundwater of American life. It became the unifying element of all aspects of the American search for meaning. The shapers of positive thinking fundamentally altered how we see ourselves today—psychologically, religiously, commercially, and politically.
Reading this wild ride of experimentation and innovation about people’s discovery of the power of the mind during the last two centuries put a lot of previous reading, study, and personal experience in perspective for me. I sincerely appreciate Mr. Horowitz’s acknowledgement of the major trouble spot in the movement. The Law of Attraction as it has been played out thus far is too narrow and simplistic and has “burdened” the movement in ways that are “difficult” and morally awkward to “defend” as an “overarching rule of life.” Horowitz sums up his telling of this history by breaking down all that we learned into four schools of thought. He explains each based on the examples presented earlier in the book and offers what he considers to be limitations of approach.
1. The Magical Thinking or Divine Thought
2. The Conditioning or Reprogramming
3. The Conversion
4. The Meaning-Based
The final chapter includes, what I feel is the cutting edge of possibility for the future of positive thinking. The author covers research in neuroscience, quantum physics, and the continuing studies of the placebo effect. This book is worth the time to read and relates to the leadership process. The very purpose of leadership is to bring about new ideas. Unless you are a diabolical leader you will hope for positive outcomes for those you lead. If you still doubt the value of positive thinking and this honest take on its history, here is a quote from Robert M. Schoch a Boston University geologist, to consider:
Something only has to be a little bit true to change everything.
Every week during 2014 I look forward to sharing books that I am reading. The lens of the leadership process will be the filter for which I recommend books. Books are powerful vehicles for providing us with inspiration and new ideas.