If you’ve been on the internet in the past few years, chances are high that you’ve seen something about the law of attraction or manifestation, if only in passing. You may have glimpsed articles that say something like “how to manifest more effectively” or success stories about people who claim to have used the law of attraction to “manifest” a dream home, a perfect relationship or a fancy yacht. The trend has even made its way to TikTok. But what is all of the fuss about?
The manifestation or law of attraction phenomenon has actually been around for years, but ever since “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne came out, different iterations and interpretations of it have been circulating the internet, presented as if they are the absolute, unquestionable truth. It has become almost a new genre of YouTube video, and there are countless podcast episodes on the subject. And of course, like any other quick fix, it has been met with raucous enthusiasm from some and a great deal of eyebrow-raising from others.
The basic premise behind the law of attraction is that thoughts create reality, so positive thoughts create positive outcomes, and negative thoughts create negative outcomes. Under this premise, everything that you “attract” into your life is your doing — including the negatives. What “The Secret” is all about is using positive thinking to “manifest” positive outcomes and avoid negative outcomes. The book is transparent about presenting its philosophy as some kind of panacea for conquering the material world, with specific directions for “manifesting weight loss” and referring to this great “law of the universe” as a means of attracting anything your heart desires — including a fancy car and any other kind of material wealth.
Although the law of attraction is supposedly a part of “spirituality,” it is clear that it isn’t about becoming a better, more respectable human being. It’s presented as more of a cheat sheet, a shortcut for worldly success. The secret in the book “The Secret” is quite simple: It’s the idea that unwavering positivity is a “get-out-of-jail-free” card that allows people to avoid the less savory parts of life and get anything and everything they want.
The book outlines multiple “steps” to this manifestation process, which involve getting clear on what you desire, creating space for it to come, visualizing about it, creating positive emotion in your life so that you can attract that positive thing that has a similar “vibration” and finally, letting go of the desire. According to “The Secret,” positive emotion and positive thinking both create a “high vibrational frequency” that attracts other positive things that “vibrate” at that same “frequency.” And so it follows that negative emotion attracts negative outcomes.
Behind all of this talk of “vibrational frequencies,” this kind of theory might seem benign at first glance. But what’s so wrong here is that by linking negative thoughts to negative outcomes you create fear around negative emotions, and place blame around events that are deemed negative. It feeds into a belief that thinking negative thoughts and feeling negative emotion directly causes every “bad” thing that has ever happened to anyone.
Yet somehow, the same people who advocate for the law of attraction also advocate that everyone “feel their feelings fully” and accept what comes. So, what is the truth? What is the real advice?
The truth that manifestation and “The Secret” denies is that a spectrum of emotions is just a part of the human experience, and that through painful, uncomfortable emotion and experience comes the opportunity for grace, maturity and wisdom. What the law of attraction tries to sell is the possibility of life without the undesirable side of the emotional polarities. But what is actually scarier? A world in which suffering is fully felt, embraced and accepted without fear of negative outcomes, or a world in which everyone suppresses negative emotion whilst subliminally living in fear of their own mind?
What the law of attraction comes down to, I think, is a grasping need for control — a need to somehow find this secret that will somehow negate the polarities of life and provide the ultimate shortcut to wealth and fame.
Another issue is that the law of attraction works on the premise that the human mind knows what is “good” and what is “bad” — that a subjective interpretation of reality is absolute truth, and everyone knows what is actually “good” for them. The notion that thoughts must be kept on a tight leash — that only some thoughts are acceptable and others destructive — is in and of itself imposing a subjective reality on an inherently neutral phenomenon. It separates subjective events, thoughts and emotions into neat categories labeled “good” or “bad.” It is a desperate reach to make sense of the incomprehensible ups and downs of life, and to be able to label the “good” and the “bad” with absolute clarity, disregarding the whole.
In essence, the law of attraction can’t be proven or disproven, but what can be proven is the effect that it has on people — impeding on a healthy emotional life, inducing guilt, promoting the dogged pursuit of worldly success and material wealth. It simplifies the complex and attempts to explain the inexplicable in black and white terms.
That’s not to say that the theory behind the law of attraction is completely useless. It does acknowledge the fact that many people experience the world exclusively through a screen of thought (perhaps with intermittent moments of thoughtless awareness). It points to how easily this screen of thought can be altered, and therefore, a person’s experience of reality can be altered. It is the basis of therapy to bring awareness to the deeply engrained thought patterns and emotional reactions triggered by these thoughts. Awareness that some thoughts just aren’t necessary could serve to make people’s minds a little more hospitable, a little more benign. It also, in a strange way, prompts people to think about what they actually want and minimizes psychological roadblocks that may have been preventing this type of re-evaluation.
But “The Secret” isn’t really about getting people to re-evaluate the mind that they inhabit. It’s just telling people how to get what they think will make them happy. It’s spirituality repackaged as a magical pill for instant happiness. If someone were to write a book called, “suffering is going to take place in your life, no matter what kind of cotton-candy positivity is going on in your mind,” no one would buy it. But the real, not-so-glamorous secret is this: There is no magical remedy, not even in the simple, promising deception of the law of attraction.