The Secret History of Positive Thinking

A presentation by Mitch Horowitz
Date: Friday, January 17th

Time: 8pm

Admission: $10

Presented by Phantasmaphile

Can the magic of our minds change our lives? From the essays of Emerson to the mega-sensation of The Secret, Americans have long wondered about the hidden potentials of the mind – particularly whether “the power of positive thinking” can bring us wealth, health, and happiness.

Most serious people view positive thinking as an immature or unrealistic response to life.  But award-winning author and lecturer Mitch Horowitz asks us to look again.  In this lively and intellectually substantive presentation, Mitch explores themes from his new book, One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life (“brilliant” – Deepak Chopra), to seriously consider the remarkable history, astonishing impact, and compelling possibilities of positive thinking.

Rather than being a soft-headed philosophy based in bromides and page-a-day calendars, positive thinking, which began with occult experiments of the mid-nineteenth century, has proven remarkably foresightful of contemporary advances in neuroscience, addiction and OCD treatment, stress and recovery programs, and in today’s most intensely debated findings within quantum physics.

Surveying the history and growth of positive thinking, and the myriad forms it has taken, Mitch squarely considers the all-important question: Does it work? As he shows, a thoughtful consideration of the background, methods, and results of positive thinking make a blanket dismissal virtually impossible. He also looks critically at the internal contradictions and ethical dilemmas of positive-thinking philosophy – and considers how these shortcomings can be fixed or reformed to remake positive thinking into a persuasive and mature approach to life.

This journey through the positive-thinking revolution also highlights:

• How the now-familiar injunction to “think positive” bubbled up from mystical and supernatural subcultures of the mid-nineteenth century before becoming the closest thing America has to a national creed.

• How this once-outsider philosophy has revolutionized mainline faith – including today’s evangelical culture.

• The remarkable personas that shaped positive-thinking, such as philosopher William James, the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, and French therapist Emile Coué (who coined the world-famous but misunderstood mantra: Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.)

• The iconic figures whose lives were impacted by positive-thinking philosophy, including suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Black Nationalist pioneer Marcus Garvey, and President Ronald Reagan.

This unforgettable presentation will give you a wholly new outlook on the history – and possibilities – of a belief system you only thought you knew.

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Mitch Horowitz is the author of One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life (Crown, Jan 2014). His previous book, Occult America (Bantam), received the 2010 PEN Oakland/ Josephine Miles Award for literary excellence.  Mitch is vice-president and editor-in-chief at Tarcher/Penguin, the division of Penguin books dedicated to metaphysical literature. He frequently writes about and discusses alternative spirituality in the national media, including CBS Sunday Morning, Dateline NBC, All Things Considered, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, BoingBoing,, and He appears in recent mini-documentaries on the history of positive thinking; Ouija Boards; and occult New York. Visit him at; on Twitter @MitchHorowitz; and on Facebook at Mitch Horowitz. He and his wife raise two sons in New York City.


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