Self-Help Bestseller Better Kept a 'Secret'

    Does your life leave something to be desired? Don’t have those A grades, that perfect body, that gorgeous significant other, that overflowing wallet? Well, all of that could be fixed in an instant, if you just visualize hard enough.

    Although, technically, it’s not your fault. This special technique, this “”secret,”” has been hidden from the common man for generations by a series of rich and powerful conspirators. Or so “”The Secret,”” by Rhonda Byrne, would have you believe. This new, bestselling, self-help book promises that by the Law of Attraction, the universe will supply to you anything you picture yourself enjoying. Simply “”ask, believe and receive.””

    The problem, and one of the things that makes this just another in a long line of self-help books that drive me absolutely insane, is that life isn’t ever that easy. It’s not that I’m against positive thinking – quite the contrary. I’m all for believing that you can succeed despite all odds; it’s part of the reason why I’m a writing major despite the abysmal job market.

    But “”that’s not what ‘The Secret’ is saying,”” Jerry Adler wrote in Newsweek. The book promises so much more, offering everything from that perfect spouse to that car you always wanted. He quotes one of the advocates of the book, “”author and personal empowerment advocate”” Lisa Nichols, who said, “”When you think of the things you want, and you focus on them with all of your intention, then the law of attraction will give you exactly what you want, every time.””

    This really doesn’t sound all that bad; what’s wrong with believing the universe is going to give you enough money for that Prada purse? The catch is there’s a bit of a problem with just how you’re supposed to visualize that money coming to you. You’re supposed to act as if you already have it.

    “”The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thought,”” Byrne told the New York Post. Spend the money as if you don’t need it, and eventually your positive thinking will send more your way. That sounds like sound financial advice right there.

    And that entire claim, that the only reason someone doesn’t have something is because they are blocking it “”from coming to them with their thought,”” is a fairly dangerous one. If negative thinking can keep you from getting something good, could it also cause bad things to happen to you? Apparently so, as Newsweek reported that Byrne, when questioned about the massacre in Rwanda, said “”If we are in fear, if we’re feeling in our lives that we’re victims and feeling powerless, then we are on a frequency of attracting those things to us.””

    But more importantly, such logic implies that if you don’t get what you’ve been visualizing, it’s not the book that’s failing. Rather, it’s your fault for not properly applying the technique. If all your wishes don’t materialize, it’s because you don’t believe enough. Or, perhaps your negative feelings and thoughts are interfering. What happens when someone fully adopts this philosophy but they don’t get what they want?

    What happens when they’re faced with their failure to control their world?

    “”While research shows positive thinking can help mental and physical health, it’s dangerous to think it has limitless effects,”” said Lee Budesheim, associate professor of psychology at Creighton University. “”If life were that simple, we wouldn’t have so many people dying of disease, we wouldn’t have medical schools, we wouldn’t be spending millions and millions of dollars trying to find cures.””

    With all of these fairly common-sense arguments, why are so many people buying into this snake oil? How could such a book top the New York Times’ bestseller list for multiple weeks in a row? The answer lies in the current uncertain state of the world.

    “”In times of uncertainty, people gravitate to anything that’s going to make them feel more certain,”” said Thomas J. Johnson, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for the Study of Health, Religion and Spirituality at Indiana State University. “”The post-9/11 world is a pretty scary place. Besides the looming threat of terrorism, there’s the economic gap between the rich and the poor and the middle class widening that may set people up for a need for security and predictability.””

    In such a world, it makes sense that people would grasp onto anything that lets them control their lives, however far-fetched it may be. But when someone relies solely on the power of positive thinking, without actually making any moves to accomplish their goals, they’ll end up exactly where they started, sans $29.95.

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