Earlier this year a friend of mine delivered a sermon at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Facebook comments soon informed him that the church had once been headed by Donald Trump's favorite minister.
That minister was Norman Vincent Peale. Reverend Peale presided at his marriage to Ivana. Trump has spoken about Peale’s extraordinary sermons and teachings.
Regardless of what one thinks about Trump, his favorite minister warrants renewed attention. While Peale was popular in the 50s and 60s, he fell from the public eye because of some of his more conservative political positions. His writings were also seen as simplistic and backwards-looking.
But there is a difference between simplistic and simple. Peale’s writing is far from simplistic. It does, however, convey some simple and overlooked guidance for living happier and more productive lives. What are they?
1. Always be optimistic because optimism makes happiness more likely: Even in trying circumstances, which each of us faces, optimism benefits us. It helps us cope when things go wrong, while increasing the chance we can create a better outcome. This is not just faith talking. It is science.
Researchers have discovered what they term “the optimism bias.” The way we view the future helps shape what it turns out to be. When we view it positively, we reduce anxiety and stress. And we focus on creating the future we envision.
Much of the research in this area has, interestingly, come out of Israel. The world’s foremost optimism expert, Dr. Tali Sharot, writes that “The tendency for positive predictions to create positive outcomes is rooted in fundamental rules governing the way the mind perceives, interprets and alters the work it encounters.
“The mind has a tendency to try to transform predictions into reality because our behavior is influenced by our own subjective perceptions of reality.”
In other words, what we believe is more likely to come true because the belief generates the action we need. We will work harder to realize our beliefs. Peale knew 60 years ago what researchers are proving today.
2. Find meaning in tragedy: Shakespeare said, “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” In other words, we assign meaning to life’s events.
Certain events like the death of a loved one inevitably produce sadness. Yet, they can also lead us to make positive changes in our life. They remind us of what matters most. They can help us renew other relationships.
We can find hope, as Peale recognized, even in the worst circumstances. And we can turn our tragedy into a lifeline for others. Consider the victims of cancer and Alzheimer’s whose survivors have raised tremendous funds to help find a cure, so others do not experience the same tragedy.
3. Pray with intention: Peale was an extraordinary preacher. Yet, his colleagues said he always got tremendously nervous before getting up to speak.
What calmed him and gave him focus were a few simple prayers. They gave him the push to share his message with the thousands who needed it.
Peale understood prayer is not simply about saying something to God. It is also about saying something to ourselves.
It tells us of who we are and what we are called to do. It gives God an opening to into our hearts and minds so God can help use our gifts. It reminds us that God has our back.
300 years ago a Jewish mystic said “God dwells where we let Him in.” Prayer is a way of opening the door so God can come in. And when God comes in, we find the inner strength to live fully and pursue the happiness for which we were created.
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