There is in each person, Emerson wrote, a "vast-flowing vigor," an energy that we can rely upon in any circumstance. Every one of us can tap into this bottomless spiritual reservoir. But we have a tendency to deny it. Have you ever felt overwhelmed by stress and thought, Things never go my way? Beaten yourself up over your mistakes? Deflected a compliment by saying, "Oh, it was nothing"? These are all examples of self-defeating thoughts, also known as stinking thinking.
All of us have experienced times when we're deeply in tune with life and with ourselves, when everything comes naturally. Psychologist Abraham Maslow, father of the human potential movement, called these "peak moments." More recently, psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has used the term "flow" to describe this state of total engagement. Athletes call it being "in the zone."
For Emerson, a positive attitude wasn't a passive thing, a mere lens for viewing a sometimes difficult world in a kinder light. He believed it held a genuine practical power. Emerson scholar and biographer Robert D. Richardson, Jr., explains this aspect of Emerson's thought in a wonderfully concrete way.