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Narrative analysis of Dale
Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying
and Start Living
Using psychological capital as the analytical
Mario Hayek
Texas A&M University– Commerce, Commerce, Texas, USA
Milorad M. Novicevic
Management Department, University of Mississippi, University, Mississippi, USA
M. Ronald Buckley
Division of Management, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA
Russell W. Clayton
University of North Carolina at Asheville, Asheville, North Carolina, USA, and
Foster Roberts
University of Mississippi, University, Mississippi, USA
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine how one of Dale Carnegie’s historically best
selling self-help books, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, resonates with the contemporary
conceptualization of psychological capital (PsyCap).
Design/methodology/approach – The authors use a narrative historical interpretation to analyze
Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Initially, two of the co-authors
independently identified passages mirroring each of the four PsyCap capacities, while in the final stage
a consensus on the interpretation was reached with the remaining co-authors.
Findings – The components of the PsyCap construct resonate well with the prescriptions that
Carnegie narrated and outlined in his best selling book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.
Research limitations/implications – The findings of this study should be interpreted with a
recognition that an alternative critical approach to narrative analysis could have been conducted based
on the narrative logic of social power structure.
Originality/value – This paper is unique in placing an emphasis on the insights researchers and
practitioners alike can gain by re-evaluating the self-help books from the past.
Keywords Dale Carnegie, Psychological capital, Positive psychology, Psychological research,
Self development
Paper type Research paper
Journal of Management History
Vol. 18 No. 3, 2012
pp. 268-284
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/17511341211236219
Positive psychology is an emerging field focused on the development of individuals
through an encouraging outlook on life (Seligman, 1998). This field, which was
formally established at the American Psychological Association Convention in 1998,
has since continued to grow and capture the attention of academics and the public in
general (Donaldson et al., 2011). Practitioners have been particularly interested in the
applied research of positive psychological interventions, which could be designed to
induce positive feelings, behaviors, and thoughts that may yield a broad range of
positive outcomes (Sin and Lyubomirsky, 2009). In addition, researchers have been
inspire by the initial successful interventions to examine the phenomena of positive
psychology in the organizational context, as positive organizational behavior at the
individual level (POB, Luthans, 2002a) and positive organizational scholarship at the
organizational level (POS, Cameron and Caza, 2004). This examination has opened a
new perspective of exploring what is best about organizations and employees, as
opposed to the mainstream investigation of what is wrong and what needs to be fixed
in organizational conduct (Lopes et al., 2011, p. 100).
The authors promoting the expected benefits of positive organizational behavior
and positive organizational scholarship have produced a plethora of self-help books
targeting the general mass market (Peterson, 2000). The historical “grandfather” of
these self-help books is Dale Carnegie, who published his seminal self-help books
almost 60 years before the contemporary books in positive psychology became popular
in the wider community. Curiously, while his work is known to virtually every
practitioner, it has been mostly overlooked as the subject of positive academic research.
This is paradoxical as Dale Carnegie’s first bestseller, How to Win Friends and
Influence People, was initially published in 1936 and had sold more than 30 million
copies by 2000 (Peterson, 2000). In 1944 Carnegie published his second book How to
Stop Worrying and Start Living, which became one of the most popular self-help books
for positive coping ever written in the USA, as it sold approximately 25 million copies
by 2000. These two books eventually became required reading for over seven million
practitioners that have attended the Dale Carnegie Training Program (Peterson, 2000).
With today’s growing movement to “theorize practice” (Feldman and Orlikowski, 2011;
Novicevic et al., 2002, 2011a, b; Gilstrap et al., 2011; Bevir, 2011), there is evidently a
pressing need to analyze the practice in and of Carnegie’s works.
The purpose of this paper is to use historical interpretation and examine how Dale
Carnegie’s ideas outlined in his works resonate with the contemporary
conceptualization of psychological capital. First, we explain the psychological
capital construct and its components/factors (self-efficacy, hope, resilience, and
optimism). Second, we analyze Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start
Living to identify passages paralleling the psychological capital factors. Finally, we
discuss how Dale Carnegie’s timeless classics may shed a new historical light on
contemporary thought and practice in positive psychological inquiry.
Narrative interpretation of classics
Grounded in the philosophy of the history of ideas, the narrative approach to the
history of positive organizational behavior emphasizes the importance of storytelling
and exploratory theorizing (Humphreys et al., 2011; White, 1987; Abraham et al., 2009).
This approach rejects pure empiricism while supporting the Kuhnian view that our
theories are embedded in the webs of our shared beliefs (i.e. paradigms or traditions)
(Czarniawska, 2004). In this view, theories based on the narrative interpretation of
classics are tested by choosing among webs of beliefs based on the “ability of a
tradition to narrate itself and its rivals” (Bevir, 2011, p. 188).
The ontology of the narrative approach to history of POB is grounded in
constructivism (i.e. reality is constructed) and historicism (i.e. history matters) (Novicevic
et al., 2008). With this grounding, the POB concepts are assumed as derived in an
inventive way from meaningful practical activities observed by the historicist in the
examined classical Carnegie’s book. The aim of this pragmatic focus on practice is to
reveal the underlying beliefs that guided actions and provided explanations for these
actions by attributing the intentionality of their actors that Carnegie described. The
explanations that connect actions of different positive individuals to the traditional shared
webs of beliefs are contextualized as historical explanations (White, 1987). These types of
explanations reflect narratives that historicize reasons for actors’ positive actions.
In order to explain POB using a narrative approach to the Carnegie’s work, it is
necessary to tell competing stories about actors’ positive beliefs that evolved within
their contexts and histories and select the story that best explains their actions
(Lieblich et al., 1988). In other words, a POB theory as a causal claim about historical
practices “becomes objective not by virtue of its isolated relations to facts but rather
through a comparison with other accounts” (Bevir, 2011, p. 191) (i.e. we can explain
POB concepts by analyzing historical narratives). In this study, we will review the POB
concept of psychological capital by analyzing the narrative of the practices observed
by Dale Carnegie.
For this analysis, we selected the book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living that
reflects the positive psychology to which Carnegie implicitly refers in his prescriptions.
These positive psychology prescriptions resonate well with the concept of positive
organizational behavior labeled as psychological capital. Two of the co-authors of this
article acted as independent readers to identify passages of the book reflecting each of
the four PsyCap capacities (i.e. self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resiliency). Once these
passages were identified, both of the readers, with the assistance of the remaining
co-authors, compared and discussed the interpretation of the passages and resolved
any discrepancies in the individual interpretations of Carnegie’s narration.
Dale Carnegie’s narration is based on his collection and interpretation of individual
beliefs that reflect the folk conceptualization of positivity in the US culture (Carnegie,
1952; Dale Carnegie Training, 2006). Specifically, Dale Carnegie’s books exemplify folk
wisdom as implicit theory about the manner in which people develop beliefs (Hofer and
Pintrich, 2002; Kitchener, 2002; Krass, 2002). In his book How to Stop Worrying and
Start Living, Carnegie (1944) narrates personal stories of both common and prominent
individuals with the objective of deriving from these stories folk-epistemic
prescriptions for effective and positive ways of dealing with life challenges
(Peterson, 2000; Woodstock, 2005). The challenges are particularly salient during the
turbulent economic and social times, such as were the times post Great Depression and
the World War II when Carnegie was writing his first self-help books.
We argue that Carnegie’s folk prescriptions for coping with adverse situations,
which were articulated more than half a century ago, can be appropriately analyzed
using the framework of the contemporary conceptualization of psychological capital.
By analyzing Carnegie’s narration using this framework, we examine whether these
particular prescriptions can be mapped onto the factors/capacities of psychological
capital. The specific purpose of our narrative analysis is to identify those beliefs of
Dale Carnegie about the power of positive thinking that may be viewed as historical
lay/folk conceptualizations of psychological capital. The main impetus for our analysis
rests on the decades-long popularity of Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying
and Start Living, which in an applied way legitimizes the assumption that positive
thinking matters for practice. In other words, Dale Carnegie’s collection of folk wisdom,
along with his interpretation of this accumulated wisdom as prescriptions, has stood
the test of time and invites our narrative analysis to capitalize on his insights (i.e. to
discern his potential foreshadowing of specific meanings that resemble the
psychological capital construct) (Kemp and Claflin, 1989).
In summary, we use in our narrative analysis, psychological capital as the framework
to recover meanings from Dale Carnegie’s classic text, thereby “transcending the
dichotomy between the ‘living’ and the ‘dead’ past” of these meanings (Tyler, 2009, p.
171). Specifically, we attempt to achieve “historicized re-enactment” of those Carnegie’s
presuppositions that resonate well with this framework. To avoid a possible trap of
claiming anachronism in this attempt, we narrow our narrative analysis only to these
instances of conceptual resonance, while refraining from making any argument that Dale
Carnegie provided seminal conceptualization of psychological capital. Therefore, in the
following sections we explain psychological capital as the framework that is later in this
paper used for narrowing of our narrative analysis.
Psychological capital
The construct of psychological capital, or PsyCap, is:
grounded in theory and empirical research;
state-like and open to development; and
may have a positive impact on work-related performance (Luthans, 2002a, b;
Luthans et al., 2010).
The positive resources that fit these criteria as the components of psychological capital
are self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resilience (Luthans et al., 2007b, 2010), because
they possess a state-like capacity to be developed by individuals (i.e. individual
psychological capital can be accumulated in terms of these resources) (Luthans and
Youssef, 2007). Kersting (2003) explained that psychological capital is built through
devotion of psychological assets of a person with the purpose of receiving future
benefit from such investment and that when such benefit is received it further
strengthens the devotion to building their psychological capital. In terms of these four
resources, PsyCap is defined as an “individual’s positive-psychological state of
development that is characterized by:
“having confidence (self-efficacy) to take on and put in the necessary effort to
succeed at challenging tasks:
making a positive attribution (optimism) about succeeding now and in the future;
persevering toward goals and, when necessary, redirecting paths to goals (hope)
in order to succeed; and
when beset by problems and adversity, sustaining and bouncing back and even
beyond (resiliency) to attain success” (Luthans et al., 2007b, p. 3).
This means that PsyCap is a multidimensional second-order construct consisting of the
four distinct first-order constructs of hope, resilience, optimism and self-efficacy that
are tied together by “a core factor of internalized agency, motivation, perseverance, and
success expectancies” (Avey et al., 2010a, p. 438).
Past empirical studies indicate that those individuals that are high in PsyCap have
greater levels of job satisfaction (Luthans et al., 2007a) and organizational commitment
(Luthans et al., 2008) than those individuals possessing lower levels of PsyCap. Recent
research also suggests that PsyCap provides a protective buffer between work-related
stress and uncivil behavior at work (Roberts et al., 2011). That is, those individuals
high in PsyCap are better able to cope with work-related stress and more likely to
respond positively. A recent meta-analysis (i.e. Avey et al., 2011) encompassing 51
independent samples provides an even broader evidence of PsyCap’s positive impact
on employees’ attitudes, behaviors, and performance. First, PsyCap was found to have
a positive relationship with the employee attitudes of job satisfaction, organizational
commitment, and psychological well being at work and negatively related to the
undesirable employee attitudes of employee cynicism, turnover intentions, and stress
and anxiety. Second, this meta-analysis indicates that there is a strong positive
relationship between PsyCap and the desirable employee behavior of organizational
citizenship behaviors (OCB) and negative relationship with employee deviance.
Finally, PsyCap was a significant predictor of employee performance (e.g. supervisor
ratings). Taken together, the evidence provided by prior empirical research suggests
that the development of PsyCap may lead to greater performance of employees (Avey
et al., 2010b). In the remaining part of this section, we deconstruct the PsyCap construct
and analyze its four first-order constructs that meet Luthans’ (2002a, b) criteria of what
constitutes a psychological capital resource. These first-order constructs are
self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resiliency (Larson and Luthans, 2006).
Self-efficacy, also referred to as confidence in the POB literature (e.g. Luthans, 2002a),
is the construct that best fits the four criteria for inclusion in PsyCap (Larson and
Luthans, 2006). Self-efficacy, which originated from Bandura’s (1986) social cognitive
theory, represents an individual’s perception about his or her abilities to successfully
accomplish a given task. In other words, self-efficacy is an individual’s perception of
control and assessment of “how well one can execute courses of action required to deal
with prospective situations” (Bandura, 1982, p. 122). Individuals with higher levels of
self-efficacy will exert greater effort in accomplishing a given task than those with
lower levels of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986). In effect, self-efficacy research has yielded
strong positive relationships with work-performance of employees (Stajkovic and
Luthans, 1998). In their study of the effects of negative self-efficacy, Bandura and
Locke (2003) found a positive relationship between self-efficacy and job performance.
Meta-analytic evidence has also been found in support of the positive relationship
between self-efficacy and work-related performance (Sadri and Robertson, 1993).
Self-efficacy is a state-like capacity that can be developed in one or more of the
following ways:
efficacy can be developed through success, as individuals experience success
they become more confident in their ability to succeed;
self-efficacy can be learned from others, as they are taught by others and observe
others accomplishing tasks successfully;
self-efficacy can also be developed through interaction with superiors and those
superiors showing confidence in the subordinates’ ability to accomplish the tasks
(the superior’s confidence builds the subordinate’s confidence); and
emotional stability breeds self-efficacy.
Hope is a state-like construct like other psychological capital components. Hope is
defined as “a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense
of successful:
agency (goal-directed behavior); and
pathways (planning to meet goals)” (Snyder et al., 1991, p. 570).
The agency component of hope refers to an individual’s willpower or motivation to
pursue a goal. Complementing the agency component, pathways refers to an
individual’s creation of sub-goals and comparison of alternative ways to achieve these
goals (Luthans et al., 2010). In summary, hope may be viewed as an “empowering way
of thinking” (Snyder, 1994, p. 2) as it combines both the will and the means for success.
Empirical research on the hope construct suggests that hope positively influences
academic, athletic, and health outcomes (Snyder, 2000, 2002), individual performance
evaluations (Adams et al., 2002), job performance (Peterson and Byron, 2007), unit
performance, employee retention and job satisfaction (Peterson and Luthans, 2002),
satisfaction with owning a business (Luthans and Jensen, 2002), and salary increases
(Luthans et al., 2005).
Hope is developable just like self-efficacy. Based on the model proposed by Snyder
(2002), hope develops through goal accomplishment. According to this model, an
individual high in hope facing an obstacle or stressor in the way of goal attainment will
persevere and remain committed to the goal through alternate pathways
pre-determined by the individual. If and when goal accomplishment occurs, positive
emotions are created which feed back into and increase the hope the individual
possesses. Earlier works (Snyder et al., 1996), which supported the capacity of hope to
be developed, created and validated the hope scale.
Optimism is conceptualized in the positive psychology literature in terms of the
attributions that an individual makes relative to an event (Larson and Luthans, 2006).
Carver and Scheier (2002) define optimism as an anticipation that positive events will
occur. Similarly, Luthans (2002) explains that optimism is the element of psychological
capital that is associated to realistic positive outlooks. Although optimism has
traditionally been viewed as a trait, recent research findings (Carver and Scheier, 2002)
have however, indicated that developmental interventions do influence levels of
optimism, suggesting it is a state-like construct (Luthans, 2002a), which is one of the
reasons for its inclusion as a component of the psychological capital construct. In fact,
Seligman (1998) coined the expression “learned optimism” indicating that optimism
can be learned or developed.
The studies examining positive effects of optimism on organizational outcomes
have provided empirical support. For example, a study of insurance agents found that
those agents who were high in optimism sold more life insurance policies than those
who were low in optimism (Seligman, 1998). Another empirical study found that
optimistic employees were rated higher by their supervisors (Luthans et al., 2005).
More recently, Youssef and Luthans (2007) found a positive relationship between
optimism and job performance, along with job satisfaction. In summary, optimism
appears to be positively related to a number of valuable organizational outcomes.
Resiliency is defined as “the capability of individuals to cope successfully in the face of
significant change, adversity, or risk” (Stewart et al., 1997, p. 22). In particular,
resiliency is “the positive psychological capacity to rebound, to ‘bounce back’ from
adversity, uncertainty, conflict, failure or even positive change, progress and increased
responsibility” (Luthans, 2002a, p. 702). Luthans et al. (2006) note that resiliency is
viewed primarily as reactive, requiring a stressor antecedent (e.g. job loss) to activate
the resilience process, whereas the other three PsyCap constructs are more proactive in
nature. Much of the empirical research on resiliency has been done in clinical
psychology and focuses on personal assets (i.e. resources) that assist individuals in
adapting to adverse events and risk factors that decrease adaptation (Luthans et al.,
2010). Applied to an organizational setting, these assets may be viewed in terms of
such resources as mentoring programs and training sessions. Risk factors in an
organizational setting would pertain to threats such as abusive supervision. Therefore,
human resource development related to resilience focuses on reducing risk factors and
increasing assets (Luthans et al., 2010).
Extant research suggests that resilience is developable just like are self-efficacy and
hope. For example, Masten (2001) describes that resilience is an adaptive system and
by the term adaptive can be developed and changed. In what she termed “ordinary
magic” resilience comes from “ordinary, normative human resources in the minds,
brains and bodies” of individuals and goes on to say that these “adaptational systems
are not invulnerable and require nurturance” (p. 235). This implies that resilience not
only can be developed but it is also extremely susceptible to being lost or decreased.
In summary, the four first-order factors (self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resiliency)
are grouped to form facets of the second-order PsyCap factor (Luthans et al., 2006). By
uniting the facets into psychological capital, these componential constructs taken
together represent “one’s positive appraisal of circumstances and probability for success
based on motivated effort and perseverance” (Luthans et al., 2007a, p. 550) and offer a
stronger predictive construct than the four capacities taken individually (Avey et al.,
2010a). In the following section, we use the PsyCap facets as a framework to conduct a
narrative analysis of Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.
Analyzing Carnegie’s narratives within a psychological capital framework
Dale Carnegie’s inspiration for his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
originated from his review of the ideas of ancient philosophers (e.g. Plato, ancient
Greek philosopher and founder of the Academy in Athens, which was the first institute
of higher learning), his analysis of significant biographies (e.g. Churchill, the British
statesman and military leader during WWII, as well as the winner of the 1953 Nobel
Prize in literature), and his interviews of prominent individuals (e.g. Jack Dempsey,
World Heavyweight Boxing Champion from 1919 to 1926). Although How to Stop
Worrying and Start Living might be viewed as another “popular feel-good” book of the
past, Carnegie’s conceptualization of positivity as it is narrated in this book does mirror
the lay/folk views that are stable across time. This conceptualization places an
emphasis on what is right with people while focusing on strengths and positive
outlooks, developing wellness, and a sense of a good life. Specifically, Carnegie (1944)
states in his book that he is “advocating that we assume a positive attitude instead of a
negative attitude” (p. 67) claiming that his recommendations can help alleviate health
problems, increase efficiency, and happiness. Carnegie (1944) also states
“circumstances alone do not make us happy or unhappy. It is the way we react to
circumstances that determines our feelings” (p. 54).
Interestingly, contemporary research suggest “that happiness is a function of
environmental events and circumstances, stable tendencies in the person, and the fit
between the two, with the possibility of limited modification by carefully chosen and
intentionally varied volitional acts”. Carnegie’s prescription on how to achieve
happiness resonates with the findings by Youssef and Luthans (2007) that antecedents
to happiness include hope, resilience and optimism. Carnegie (1944) also explains that
he is “deeply convinced that our peace of mind and the joy we get out of living depends
not on where we are, or what we have, or who we are, but solely on our mental
attitudes. Outward conditions have very little to do with it” (p. 70). In the following
section we illustrate the parallels that resonate between the four first-order constructs
of PsyCap and Carnegie’s prescriptions narrated in his book How to Stop Worrying and
Start Living.
Carnegie’s view of self-efficacy
Of the four first-order constructs of PsyCap, self-efficacy or self-confidence provides
arguably the best fit with Luthans’ (2002a) approach to positive organizational
behavior. The concept of self-efficacy seems to be a predominant theme in How to Stop
Worrying and Start Living. For example, in the preface “How This Book was Written –
and Why,” Carnegie (1944) described his time as a teacher of adults at the YMCA’s
night school noting that he “was astounded at how quickly these business men
developed self-confidence” (p. 7). Highlighting the importance of self-efficacy as a
foundation for individual development, Carnegie offered a glimpse into his method of
self-analysis which is akin to providing himself the feedback needed to develop
self-efficacy. He noted that he kept a file of “Fool Things I Have Done” as a tool to
reflect and adjust his own behavior. Reflecting on this attempt to develop self-efficacy,
Carnegie recalled, “Sometimes I am astonished by my own blunders. Of course, as the
years have gone by, these blunders have become less frequent. This system of
self-analysis, continued year after year, has done more for me than any other one thing
I have ever attempted” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 125).
Carnegie’s discourse concerning learning from ones own experiences mirrors the
concept of “mastery experiences” introduced by Bandura (1986). Mastery experiences
come from one’s evaluation of his or her previous performance in a specific situation
and are one way in which self-efficacy can be developed (Bandura, 1986). One example
Carnegie provides concerns a gentleman, Frank Bettger, who struggled selling
life-insurance. Carnegie explained “he was on the point of admitting failure-until
analyzing the problem gave him a boost on the road to success.” Another illustrative
example, Carnegie (1944) describes how former US Senator Elmer Thomas developed
self-efficacy via a mastery experience:
Shortly after [putting myself through college], four events happened that helped me to
overcome my worries and my feeling of inferiority. One of these events gave me courage and
hope and confidence and completely changed all the rest of my life [. . .] I can see that winning
that speaking contest was the turning point of my life. The local newspapers ran an article
about me on the front page and prophesied great things for my future. Winning that contest
put me on the map locally and gave me prestige, and, what is far more important, it multiplied
my confidence a hundredfold (p. 167).
Another example of developing self-efficacy by utilizing mastery experiences is
Carnegie’s discussion of Benjamin Franklin’s reflection on his experiences. Carnegie
(1944) noted that Benjamin Franklin “gave himself a severe going-over every night” to
assess his own faults (p. 125). He further noted, “Ben Franklin realized that, unless he
eliminated [his] handicaps, he wasn’t going to get very far. So he battled with one of his
shortcomings every day for a week, and kept a record of who had won each day’s
slugging match” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 125). Carnegie (1944) supports this view further
through the wisdom of Emerson who said, “The power which resides in him is new in
nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he
has tried” (p. 92). Overall, based on these examples given by Carnegie that echo the
underlying PsyCap construct of self-efficacy, it appears that developing self-efficacy to
help working adults stop worrying was a theme addressed by Carnegie, many years
before the formalization of the self-efficacy construct in the PsyCap literature.
Carnegie’s View of Hope
In the preface to his book, Carnegie narrates how hope helped him find a pathway out
of the vicious recurring question, “Was this all life would ever mean to me-working at a
job I despised, living with roaches, eating vile food-and with no hope for the future?”
(Carnegie, 1944, preface). Also, in referring to the importance that hope had for his own
family, he reveals that “My own father-well, as I have already said, my own father
would have drowned himself had it not been for my mother’s prayers and faith”
(Carnegie, 1944, p. 113).
Carnegie emphasizes the exemplary importance of hope illustrating how it can play
a decisive role of providing purpose in the lives of a number of people. Carnegie’s
description of Willis H. Carrier’s “magic formula for solving worry situations” is the
essence of hope. This formula has three steps:
(1) stuation analysis;
(2) determining the absolute worst that can happen and accept it; and
(3) work toward improving the situation (Carnegie, 1944, p. 16).
Once the worst that can occur has been accepted it opens plenty of room for hope for
improving the situation. For example, expressing hope after she had been told by
doctors that she would most certainly die of cancer, a woman exclaimed, “And if there
is anything to mind over matter, I am going to win! I am going to LIVE!” (Carnegie,
1944, p. 27). In a similar fashion, a woman who was considering suicide read in an
article, “Every day is a new life to a wise man” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 13). This article gave
her hope of truly appreciating another day of her life.
Carnegie also stresses the role of religion as a source of hope for many individuals.
He cites a Nobel-Prize laureate, Dr Alexis Carrel, who wrote Man, the Unknown:
“Prayer is the most powerful form of energy one can generate. It is a force as real as
terrestrial gravity. As a physician, I have seen men, after all other therapy had failed,
lifted out of disease and melancholy by the serene effort of prayer [. . .] Prayer like
radium is a source of luminous, self-generating energy [. . .] In prayer, human beings
seek to augment their finite energy by addressing themselves to the Infinite source of
all energy. When we pray, we link ourselves with the inexhaustible motive power that
spins the universe. We pray that a part of this power be apportioned to our needs”
(Carnegie, 1944, p. 116).
Carnegie’s view of optimism
Carnegie (1944, p. 52) recommends that even during desperate times, it is important to
maintain a positive, optimistic outlook on life. He cites Alfred Adler who professed that
one of the fascinating aspects of human beings is “their power to turn a minus into a
plus” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 93). “Two men looked out from prison bars: One saw the mud,
the other saw stars” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 93). This example shows how optimism is a
prerequisite for opportunity recognition, as only an optimistic eye can recognize an
opportunity. “Count your blessings-not your troubles” (p. 88) Carnegie describes, is the
lesson we should learn from Dr Samuel Johnson, who said more than two centuries
before, ‘the habit of looking on the best side of every event, is worth more than a
thousand pounds a year’ (Carnegie, 1944, p. 87).
To stop worrying and start recognizing opportunities, Carnegie suggests that it is
important to reflect on each situation looking for the reasons to mitigate worries by
thinking, “Let’s examine the record [. . .]. Let’s ask ourselves: What are the chances,
according to the law of averages, that this event I am worrying about will ever occur?”
(Carnegie, 1944, p. 52). Specifically, Carnegie cites the words of Roger Babson who
recounts a method he uses to reduce his worries: “After reading history for an hour, I
realize that bad as conditions are now, they are infinitely better than they used to be.
This enables me to see and face my present troubles in their proper perspective as well
as to realize that the world as a whole is constantly growing better” (Carnegie, 1944, p.
165). Another extreme case of taking the positive from what would be typically viewed
as negative can be found in Carnegie’s description of Booth Tarkington who endured
many surgeries in efforts to save his eyes sight. As explained by Carnegie (1944):
The average man would have been a nervous wreck if he had had to endure more than 12
operations and blindness. Yet Tarkington said: “I would not exchange this experience for a
happier one.” It taught him acceptance. It taught him that nothing life could bring him was
beyond his strength to endure. It taught him, as John Milton discovered, that “It is not
miserable to be blind, it is only miserable not to be able to endure blindness.” (p. 54).
In this example, Tarkington mitigated the worries that would be brought on by
operations and the loss of his eyesight by focusing on the positive experience he was
receiving in developing his acceptance and endurance.
Even to the one that realizes the gravity of a particular situation, Carnegie (1944, p.
176) proposes an optimistic framing of the situation, “It is good to know that we have
hit bottom and survived. That makes all our daily problems seem easy by
comparison.” Ultimately, he explains “The point of this is: Don’t take yourself too
seriously. Try ‘just laughing’ at some of your sillier worries, and see if you can’t laugh
them out of existence” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 177). In other words, optimism provides
capacity to conserve one’s emotional resources and redirect them from worries to
Carnegie’s view of resiliency
Carnegie discusses at length the need to remain resilient in the face of adversity,
particularly the adversity that results from one’s disability. He warns that in order for
the principles he set forth in his book to be effective, they would “require time and
persistence and daily application” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 37). Carnegie recounts numerous
famous individuals (e.g. Darwin, Lincoln, Helen Keller, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven)
that had some disability but it only made them more determined to excel. In particular,
he suggests that it was the disability that made them resilient and determined to fight
harder and accomplish the great things for which history remembers them. In a similar
vein, Harry Emerson Fosdick describes vividly this resilient attitude of determined
people in his book, The Power to See it Through; “There is a Scandinavian saying
which some of us might well take as a rallying cry for our lives: “The north wind made
the Vikings’” (as cited in Carnegie, 1944, p. 97).
To illustrate how resiliency stems from one’s ability to face the situation as it is,
Carnegie narrates the story of Mrs John Burger’s life that was in shambles. Referring to
the impact of her mother who had influenced her to become resilient, she wrote, “She
challenged me to get up out of bed and fight for all I had. She said I was giving in to the
situation, fearing it instead of facing it, running away from life instead of living it.” After
heeding her mothers’ advice, she said: “I had a sense of well-being because I had begun to
fight a battle and I was winning.” She concluded with the following advice: “If a situation
seems insurmountable, face it! Start fighting! Don’t give in!” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 201).
Another example is Al Smith, who after being elected to the New York State Senate
found that he was not prepared for such a challenge, however “he decided to study 16
hours a day and turn his lemon of ignorance into a lemonade of knowledge. By doing
that, he transformed himself from a local politician into a national figure and made
himself so outstanding that The New York Times called him ‘the best-loved citizen of
New York’” (Carnegie, 1944, pp. 95-6). Although, this resilience ultimately resulted in
success and popularity for Al Smith, Carnegie (1944) also suggests resilience in the face
of criticism, when he states “Do the very best you can: and then put up your old umbrella
and keep the rain of criticism from running down the back of your neck” (p. 124).
Carnegie illustrates a particular means by which people can develop resiliency – the
means which was proposed by Ferenc Molnar: “Getting used to work might be hard.
Sooner or later you succeed. It has, of course, the quality of all the narcotics. It becomes
habit-forming. And once the habit is formed, sooner or later, it becomes impossible to
break one’s self of it” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 202). In the end, Carnegie provides a closing
recommendation “You and I will last longer, and enjoy smoother riding, if we learn to
absorb the shocks and jolts along the rocky road of life” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 57), just
how the renowned boxer Jack Dempsey always focused on positive thoughts and gave
positive statements that kept his mind so occupied that he did not feel the blows
(Carnegie, 1944), and how R.V.C. Bodley learned from the Arabs that “when the fierce,
burning winds blow over our lives-and we cannot prevent them-let us, too, accept the
inevitable. And then get busy picking up the pieces” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 169). In other
words, to be resilient we must learn how to recover from setbacks in our lives.
In this paper, we have engaged in the process of interpreting historical meanings
expressed by Dale Carnegie in his classic work How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.
Although this world does “give the appearance of straightforward objectivity,” the
process of interpreting it is not straightforward unless we use tradition as the reference
for our narrative analysis. We have also used a coherent form of reasoning (i.e. logic)
when examining the contemporary construct (i.e. psychological capital) that we used as
the framework for conceptualizing meanings uncovered from the classic. By making
coherent and meaningful links between the traditional and contemporary
conceptualizations, we “act as translators explaining the people of the past to us
today” (Bevir, 2011, p. 158). In this translation, we have attempted to uncover meanings
and outline conceptualizations that could be valuable for the historical legitimization of
the studied construct (i.e. psychological capital).
Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living was written as a self-help
book intended to offer prescriptions of how to maintain a positive outlook when dealing
with life’s adversities and challenges (Novicevic et al., 2006). His prescriptions are given
in the form of techniques that could mitigate worries. These techniques are reframing
problems as challenges, reflecting realistically on each problematic situation, and
redirecting emotional resources to a positive stance. Carnegie’s main advice is to preserve
enthusiasm when confronting problems at hand by always searching for the ways to
“hide [our] private sorrow under a smile and carry on” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 53).
Despite the overwhelming success of How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, it is not
without limitation. That is, the prescriptions espoused by Carnegie may be perceived as
overly simplistic by some in both the academic community and general public. For
example, Carnegie’s discussion of following Carrier’s “magic formula for solving worry
situations” (Carnegie, 1944, p. 16) as a prescription for the PsyCap construct of hope may
be perceived as too general as compared to Luthans et al.’ (2006) facilitator-led PsyCap
Intervention (PCI) in which hope is developed via a three-pronged strategy that includes
goal design, pathway generation, and overcoming obstacles. Furthermore, as it was
published over 65 years ago, the language and examples used in How to Stop Worrying
and Start Living may not resonate with present-day, Millennial generation (those born
in/after 1980) readers. However, our analysis supports the notion that Carnegie’s views
on positive thinking can enrich our contemporary conceptualization of psychological
capital; as a result, these limitations should not diminish the contributive value made to
PsyCap research by Carnegie.
Carnegie argues that individuals that exhibit resiliency in the face of adversity have
the capacity not only to recover but also to improve the quality of their lives with
optimism and energy. Looking at the “sunny side” of reality even in stressful
situations, these individuals are more effective problem-solvers that make sense of
threatening situations and recognize opportunities. Frequently, the backbone of their
positive capacities is their spirituality that may broaden their coping repertoire and
facilitate their relaxation (Duke and Novicevic, 2008).
In summary, Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living offers a
compelling lay/folk psychological and spiritual construction of reality in a positive
light. While many self-help books are marketing gimmicks, this one is evidently an
evergreen classic for the general public, as for years it has been awarded a five-star
rating by readers (Petersson, 2000). This unpretentious, old-fashioned
narration is based on many interviews that Carnegie conducted with ordinary and
extraordinary people. Carnegie’s narration is so compelling that it seems “if an earnest
character like Dale Carnegie went around interviewing luminaries and common folk
today, the details would change, but the lessons would probably be pretty similar”
(Petersson, 2000, p. 46). In other words, it seems that despite the fact that Carnegie’s
first books were written during the turbulent times of the great depression and WWII,
his thoughts and prescriptions continue to resonate with the general public today.
While recognizing that the unique contribution of our article is the use of the narrative
analysis of Dale Carnegie’s historical writing based on the conceptual framework of
positive psychological capital, we also recognize that narrative logic as applied to this
classical writing may use some other different approaches. For example, a critical
approach based on the narrative logic of social power structure espoused in the works of
Michel Foucault (1977) might have likely resulted in a different interpretation, which
could have been either competing or complementary to our interpretation provided in
this article. In addition, we acknowledge that our imposed framework does not allow for
a grounded analysis of Carnegie’s work in which we could identify in an unconstrained
way the concepts embedded in the examined Carnegie’s book.
The twentieth century was characterized by the accentuation of the positive in
theology, philosophy, psychology, and more recently, organizational studies. Positivity
had been originally conceptualized as a unidimensional divine enlightenment, but is
now increasingly recognized as a multidimensional construct. In this study, we have
used components of a specific positive multidimensional construct – psychological
capital – as the framework for our narrative analysis of Dale Carnegie’s book How to
Stop Worrying and Start Living.
Our analysis reveals several similarities between Carnegie’s book and PsyCap, thus
the components of the PsyCap construct seem to resonate well with the prescriptions that
Carnegie narrated and outlined in his best selling book How to Stop Worrying and Start
Living. Similar to prior analyses of historical and contemporary concepts (e.g. Novicevic
et al., 2011a), while similarities were found between Carnegie’s book and PsyCap, we do
not assert that PsyCap was developed from Carnegie’s works. Nevertheless, it seems that
the empirical support for PsyCap lends credibility to Carnegie’s ideas. The prescriptions
set forth by Carnegie appear to offer many of the same positive outcomes as those
implied by the PsyCap construct proposed by Luthans (2002a) as well as their malleable
state-like conditions allowing them to be learned with the right mental attitude. For
example, Carnegie stressed how the experiences he had while teaching people how to
cope with stress convinced him about the “vital importance of one’s mental attitude”
(Carnegie, 1944, p. 170). Moreover, Carnegie (1944) posits, “these principles can be made
habitual and unconscious,” thus indicating their sustainability (p. 37).
Carnegie’s thoughts and prescriptions also extend beyond the boundaries of
psychological capital offering interesting avenues for future research. For example,
Carnegie suggested that developing self-efficacy, optimism, hope, and resilience is
important for obtaining positive outcomes in life, but only after individuals realistically
discern the boundary conditions by assessing what indeed is within their control and
what is not. In other words, he stressed the importance of maintaining a realistic
assessment of a given situation and avoiding unrealistic positivity. Unrealistic
positivity may lead to undesirable conditions such as unrealistic control beliefs
(Zuckerman et al., 1996, 2004), illusions of control (Horswill and McKenna, 1999), or
other psychological biases (De Carolis and Saparito, 2006). Carnegie’s perspective of
maintaining a realistic assessment implies that individuals should develop a sense of
self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resilience for the future once they make a realistic
assessment of their current situation. This boundary condition has not been considered
in the positive psychology research. The realistic assessment of a situation is
important as attempting to instill greater levels of hope, optimism, self-efficacy and
resilience in an individual who may have already constructed an unrealistic
assessment of reality may cause more harm than good. Therefore, before promoting
positive psychological components, individuals must first have the ability to assess
situations in an unbiased manner. This initial step of realistically assessing a situation
is an important boundary condition that would benefit positive psychology research.
In summary, research using historical analysis to explore narratives of popular
self-help books may aid in converging lay and academic interests. Review of the
self-help literature may inform academics of non-academic topics of interest as well as
serve to inspire curiosity about concepts that have grasped the attention/ interest of the
general public. This curiosity may then serve as impetus for developing fresh avenues
for research and theory development therefore narrowing the chasm/ divergence of
interests between practitioners and academics. While self-help books have been
accused of having a “silver bullet mentality” (Youssef and Luthans, book chapter),
empirical research based on measuring the outcomes of reading self-help books and
attending self-help training seminars may offer insights as to the effectiveness of such
lay prescriptions. Furthermore, future research should analyze how positive
psychology impact multiple domains (i.e. work and personal) as well as the spillover
that may occur between environments. Perhaps a study content-analyzing Carnegie’s
works could yield some new valuable insights in this direction.
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Further reading
Novicevic, M.M., Williams, L., Abraham, D.R., Gibson, M., Smothers, J. and Crawford, A. (2011),
“Linking Carnegie’s and contemporary views of positive coping strategies”, Journal of
Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 4-22.
Corresponding author
M. Ronald Buckley can be contacted at: [email protected]
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