‘The Secret’ to happiness isn’t thinking, apparently
New Age Meets Conspicuous Consumption
You might not be aware of this, but there are apparently only three things you need to do to make your life better and more prosperous; first ask the universe, then align yourself to it, and finally, reap the rewards of your materialistic fantasizing. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s not unlike what you did as a child, waiting for Santa Claus to bring you your presents.
If you’re wondering what I am talking about, then allow me to explain; in late 2006, a DVD entitled The Secret was released and received worldwide attention, with celebrities such as Oprah advertising its benefits. Eventually a book was written (which seems oddly backwards in the world of self-help). Both sold themselves on the premise that everything a person wants and desires is the result of what one ‘projects’ with their thoughts. Although this may seem like a harmless fantasy, the philosophies it endorses nevertheless encourages people’s greed, materialism, and selfishness, all under the banner of ‘self-help’.
The video starts off seemingly harmless enough; the producer explaining that she was caught in a vicious cycle of desperation at the loss of a family member and of being severely overworked. Then, by some miracle, she was told of a wonderful and powerful secret, one that had been known about for thousands of years, but was apparently suppressed. What is this wonderful secret? That the power of wishful thinking can give a person everything they dream.
As I sat, hands firmly gripping my couch pillows, fighting back my intense frustration from watching, I desperately hoped the explanation for this supposed phenomenon would be the trite but popular idea that by thinking positively, one can affect positive changes in their life. Of course, this is no secret, and the movie would be over quite quickly had they wisely asserted such a proposition. Instead, we are introduced to something called ‘The Law of Attraction’. This supposed ‘law’ is a popular New Age belief that boldly claims the prominent thoughts of people manifest themselves in physical reality. Through the dubious rhetoric of ‘the resonance of energetic vibrations’, the Secret reveals that the thoughts of people emit a frequency that causes a direct reaction from the universe.
The Secret reveals objects are manifested as we begin to fantasize about them. The harder we wish for them, the more likely we are to get them, since the universe is a giant catalog of goods (in fact, one guy literally called it ‘the catalog of the universe’) just waiting to be tapped. One just has to be ready to ask in the proper way to start reaping the benefits of such an eager-beaver cosmos.
How can you begin to experience the joys of unbridled consumerism you ask? Well, rather than think about an object in words (which this silly universe could never understand), you must break it down to a more basic, emotional context. So what if this becomes a rather obvious technique to discourage thought in favor of primal greed? I needs to get paid, dammit!
If this sounds alarmingly materialistic (in fact, I can’t tell you how many times the words prosperity, money, and wealth are used), the implications of such an idea extend far beyond the simple conspicuous consumption it so carelessly flaunts. If the universe gives us what we think about, why do people suffer, get hurt, or face hard times? In other words, if the Cosmos is so keen on pleasing us, and showering us with goods, why is life so crappy for almost everyone?
Because thoughts have such a powerful impact on physical reality, we apparently often fall victim to tragedy by merit of simply thinking about it. Our minds become ultimate betrayers, and as the gurus of the video assert, the real reason bad things happen is really all of our fault. No one is a victim; they are merely inviting pain and misery as a result of their thoughts. Never mind the couple who gets robbed, or the young woman next door who gets assaulted and raped; they all had it coming, since they were apparently unaware their own feelings had invited such terror in their lives.
Yes, it must be the victim who’s to blame! After all, when my dog was run over when I was a child, surely it was because I was putting out bad vibes to the universe, and not because my neighbor had an obsession with skidoos. Come to think of it, he was poor, and yet always seemed to buy a new snowmobile every year, usually accidentally killing a pet of mine once every decade or so. He surely must have known the Secret: he kept wishing for a check to come through the mail, and low and behold, one would appear once a month, despite his perpetual unemployment.
Like an explosion in an ammunitions depot, the video continued firing aimlessly in all directions, vomiting every objectionable ideology, each time trying to top itself in its inanity. Worried about war? Forget about protesting stupid! By doing such a thing, you only greatly increase the chance of wars breaking out, since the universe is unable to differentiate between a desire and a fear. Think you might have cancer, or you’re paralyzed from the waist down? Ignore stem cell research; having happy thoughts and not thinking about it will make those malignant blues go away!
With everyone wishing for material goods in the world, is it possible the Earth’s resources might run out? Certainly, as an environmentalist, I worry about such things. Luckily we are told by these wise gurus that we have all been deceived; there are plenty enough goods to go around. All of those scientists who say we would need three planet Earths to accommodate the needs of 6 billion people living the American dream haven’t been wishfully thinking enough. Come to think about it, maybe all their worrying is what’s causing Global Warming. We need to start ignoring this problem fast, or else we’ll start making it worse!
The lack of real content, or evidence, or research made the video not only an exercise in patience, but I seriously began to wonder if there was perhaps an insidious reason for its manufacture. After all, the DVD seemed to suggest powerful men had tried to keep the Secret from regular folks to keep them subservient. But the Secret so obviously discouraged free thought and intellectual protest that I began to imagine, like every get-rich-quick scheme and self-help manual, the real trick is to distract someone with a carrot while you steal their car. There are undoubtedly many rich and powerful individuals who achieved that power through coercive means, and it is in their best interest to continue making us believe the reasons we continue to be poor is our own fault, rather than theirs.
Perhaps that’s the real secret: that it’s always the person who claims to know the secret to success who most likely won’t share the right one, or has no real interest in sharing anything at all. More plausible is his intention to use your own greed against you. In that way, many of us really are victims of ourselves. Of course, we can always fight the temptation to listen to easy answers, and admit to each other that we can only try to live our lives the best way we can; and though we dream, realize the universe isn’t likely to buy you a new house.