Dr. Wayne Dyer went from being a naturally optimistic toddler to a prominent self-help guru, despite a disadvantaged start in life.
Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it's always your choice.
Wayne Walter Dyer was born in Detroit on May 10, 1940, to Melvin Lyle Dyer and Hazel Irene Vollick Dyer. He was one of three boys.
His father abandoned the family when Dyer was 3 years old and, as a result, the three boys spent much of their childhood in an orphanage and in foster homes. Dyer later wrote, "One of the greatest lessons of my own life was learning to turn the inner rampage of hatred and anger toward my own father for his reprehensible behavior and abandonment of his family into an inner reaction more closely aligned with God and God-realized love."
Dyer's exceptional optimism became evident when he was a toddler. He and his brothers were standing in the snow at a bus stop with their mother, when a vehicle drove by and splashed dirty slush all over them. Dyer's mother began to cry, and so did his brothers. Dyer, who was always looking for a silver lining, reassured his mother that everything would be okay, because the four of them would be able to stay where they were and play in the snow. Dyer's mother told this story frequently over the years.
Dyer seemed to know from the start that he had a special destiny. He wrote, "I know that I came into the world with what I call 'big dharma' - with a blueprint to teach self-reliance and a positive loving approach to large numbers of people all over the globe. I am ever so grateful for the circumstances of my life that allowed me to be pretty much left alone and to develop as I was so intended in this incarnation."
In 1948, Wayne Dyer's brother, David, almost drowned in the St. Clair River in Canada. Seven-year-old Wayne ran for help from a border official who knew the boys, and that official pulled David to safety. Dyer later commented, "On that late spring day it was not Dave's time to exit this lifetime, and I was the appointed one to ensure that his dharma continued."
Dyer served in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to 1962. He graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit with a doctorate in counseling. His dissertation was titled, "Group Counseling Leadership Training in Counselor Education."
After graduation, Dyer took a position as a high school guidance counselor at Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He taught driver's education there and even helped several nuns learn how to drive.
He served as a professor of counselor education at St. John's University in New York. From the beginning of his career, Dyer focused on positivity and motivation.
Dyer's life was changed forever after the publication in 1976 of "Your Erroneous Zones: Step-by-Step Advice for Escaping the Trap of Negative Thinking and Taking Control of Your Life." This book was mainly a compilation of his academic lectures. Due to his fervent belief in the power of this book's message, Dyer quit his job and traveled across the country, selling books from his car and making appearances in bookstores. He later explained, "I never sell a book. I sell myself. And, the way to sell yourself is to be an instrument of love." "Your Erroneous Zones" became a best-seller and, in fact, is one of the best-selling books of all time.
In the years that followed, Dyer wrote many more books. He gained fame and book sales from guest appearances on talk shows, including "The Merv Griffin Show," "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, and "The Phil Donohue Show."
Dyer expanded his focus from books to lecture tours and other supplemental materials. People found him credible because he was self-made, genuine, and hard-working - and much of his advice was easy to follow. For example, he suggested, "Give yourself a gift of five minutes of contemplation in awe of everything you see around you. Go outside and turn your attention to the many miracles around you. This five-minute-a-day regimen of appreciation and gratitude will help you to focus your life in awe."
Dyer promoted meditation for relaxation and self-improvement. He wrote, "Meditation is difficult for many people because their thoughts are always on some distant object or place. One form of meditation is to label the thought as it appears and then choose to let it go."
Dyer took inspiration from other self-help writers. He was even accused of plagiarism more than once, which he perhaps committed subconsciously. Cases were settled out of court.
In any event, Dyer had a flair for presenting his ideas clearly and eloquently. His enthusiasm was always evident, as in this quote: "My favorite affirmation when I feel stuck or out of sorts is: Whatever I need is already here, and it is all for my highest good. Jot this down and post it conspicuously throughout your home, on the dashboard of your car, at your office, on your microwave oven, and even in front of your toilets!"
Dyer drew from the philosophies of Jesus and Lao Tzu, then combined them with his innate sense of optimism and common sense.
Despite his reputation for helping others to live their best lives, Dyer had three failed marriages.
He and his first wife, Judy, had one daughter, Kristina Tracy. He and his second wife, Susan, had no children. Dyer and his third wife, Marcelene, had five children together and two from her previous marriage, all with given names that start with an "S." Dyer and his third wife were separated in 2001.
In 2005, Dyer decided to spend a full year studying the texts of the Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu. Dyer instructed his secretary, Maya, to sell not only all of his belongings, but also his Florida apartment. She worried that he was making a mistake, but she could not convince him to reconsider. He believed in the notion of giving 80% of worldly goods to the poor, keeping only 20% for personal use.
Dyer moved to Maui and spent a year studying the Tao. He then wrote one of his most successful books, "Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao."
Pixar produced a short award-winning animated film, "Day & Night," based on one of Dyer's lectures. His voice is featured in the film.
Dyer frequently appeared on PBS during pledge drives, but some viewers complained that Dyer violated the PBS policy of staying neutral on matters of religion and faith.
In 2008, Dyer performed the wedding ceremony for Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi.
With his daughter, Kristina Tracy, Dyer wrote a number of children's books, including the exuberantly titled, "Unstoppable Me!"
Dyer's favorite food was poke with avocado. He claimed to eat it four or five times per week.
Because he grew up with an unstable family life and he struggled academically, Dyer established a scholarship for students in similar situations. The scholarship is based on need, not on academic performance.
Young Dyer once complained to his foster mother that a teacher had called him a "scurvy elephant." After checking with the teacher in question, Dyer's foster mother explained to him that he was being a "disturbing element" in class. In later years, Dyer enjoyed using this story as an inspirational tool. He advised, "Self-actualized people are independent of the good opinion of others... Be a scurvy elephant."
In 2009, Dyer was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He chose to treat this condition with a regimen of positive thinking and exercise, along with "psychic surgery" performed remotely by a Brazilian healer known as "John of God." Following this treatment and the removal of "invisible sutures" by John of God, Dyer celebrated his 71st birthday by giving $50 bills and hugs to homeless people. He later wrote, "I can see clearly now that my experience with John of God and the miraculous results that followed these strange happenings were all a function of my shifting to a more God-realized place in my life."
Although Dyer had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2009, his cause of death was a heart attack. Dyer passed away on August 30, 2015, in Maui, Hawaii.
Dyer's physical self has left our world, but perhaps a part of him remains with us, offering love and support. He once wrote, "Your body has space within you that cannot die."