When I watched The Secret for the first time, several years ago, my initial response was an mixture of inspiration and cynicism. I found the film inspiring because I, like many other people, was not satisfied with my current life circumstances, especially in relation to finances, and so the film really appealed to my desire to change those circumstances. Yet, on the other hand, I also found the philosophy to be problematic for a number of reasons, which I will try my best to address here.
The concepts and practices outlined in the film were nothing new, and had been freely available for quite some time. I was already familiar with the basic concepts of the “Law of Attraction” thanks to people like Earnest Nightingale and Wayne Dyer, as well as many others. These old ideas were certainly no secret. They were simply repackaged in a way that made them appear fresher and more appealing.
The thing which I initially took issue with was the fact that these ideas had been packaged in “spiritual” wrappings, yet I could not help but notice how so much of the philosophy appeals to our materialistic nature.
The Law of Attraction, as it is often presented, feeds upon our sense of dissatisfaction with life circumstances. The Buddha taught that our dissatisfaction is the result of desire, and that the way to transcend suffering is to relinquish desire. The Law of Attraction philosophy, on the other hand, seems to be fueled by desire and would have us believe that the way to end our suffering is by seeing our desires fulfilled.
The Law of Attraction plays into the old idea that happiness is fulfilled through material gain. It downplays the power of gratitude, implying that we should be dissatisfied with our current circumstances. The whole idea of needing to attract something more, suggests that what we have is not enough.
The Law of Attraction does bring up some interesting points as well, however, and I’m not suggesting that the science behind it is false, or that the philosophy doesn’t have some useful points. I’m more concerned with the overall aim of the philosophy, which seems to focus heavily on material gain.
The science behind the Law of Attraction suggests that our thoughts and feelings have a great deal of influence over our circumstances, and I tend to agree with this. After all, the most successful people in the world got that way by believing that their success was possible, while the rest of us tend to remain stuck in unfavorable circumstances believing that we’re just unfortunate.
It is indeed the thoughts and beliefs of successful people which lead them to pursue their goals without defeat. Of course, the road to success is often paved with failure. That is to say that very few people have become successful without some struggle. Most of them failed miserably many times along the way. What made them successful in the long-run was that they didn’t allow these failures to discourage them. They often worked very diligently to achieve their goals, expending a great deal of time and energy.
Those expounding the Law of Attraction philosophy often have a tendency to casually omit this. They would have you believe that simply by visualizing success, you can achieve it. They would have you believe that when your beliefs are in alignment with your goals, everything flows smoothly and effortlessly. Perhaps in some cases it does. But when you read about some of the most successful people in the world, their journey was often quite rough. Had they believed that everything was meant to flow smoothly, they might have questioned, as many of us do, whether they were on the right path at all. It was the fact that they continued on, in spite of difficulty, which lead them to achieving their goals.
Another thing to note here is that many successful people are not necessarily motivated by things such as money or fame. Rather, they may have had a passion or a gift which they were compelled to follow after no matter what the circumstances. They were willing to lose everything to see that dream become reality. If they later becoming rich or famous, this was generally more of a byproduct.
Of course, there have been those whose primary pursuit was money, fame or power, and indeed they have achieved such status. But those whose primary concern has been with these three achievements often find themselves continually dissatisfied. Their lust for money, fame and power is never satiated. They always want more. So I think it’s important for us to get our priorities straight.
We need to understand that whatever it is we are seeking to gain in this world, it is ultimately rooted in our desire to be satisfied. If I ask a number of people, “What is it you desire most in life?,” I might get a number of different replies. Some will say they want to be millionaires. Others will say they want to find the perfect partner. There can be any possible number of different answers. But if I pursue the question further and ask “Why?”, eventually everyone will offer up the same answer, “Because I want to be happy.”
So there it is. What all of us truly desire is happiness. Anything else that we desire is really just believed to be a means to attaining it. Unfortunately, the Law of Attraction has a tendency to overlook this as well. It is too much focused on the means, but not the end. What the philosophy fails to take notice of is the very nature of dissatisfaction. If we believe that satisfaction comes solely through changing our circumstances, then we never really get to the root of it, and no matter how favorable our circumstances become, we will eventually find them dissatisfying. After all, there will always be something to find fault with.
The Law of Attraction suggests that we cultivate a feeling of gratitude for those things which we desire but have not yet acquired. We are asked to imagine what it would feel like had we already attained our ambitions. If the philosophy were focused upon happiness itself, however, it might suggest that rather than pursuing more stuff, we focus on what we already have and cultivate gratitude for that alone. It might suggest that we see our desires, not as the means to attaining fulfillment, but as the very cause of our initial dissatisfaction.
I’m not suggesting that there anything wrong with change or with having more of anything, but as long as this is our focus, we are suggesting that there is something missing. And perhaps what is truly missing is gratitude. What if gratitude, rather than pursuing material gain, is the way to attain happiness?
One of the great paradoxes of the Law of Attraction philosophy is the idea that our negative beliefs can serve as blockages to manifestation. For example, if we want to attract more money, we have to get rid of the belief that we don’t have enough, because as long as we are thinking in terms of lack, the vibration we are sending out to the universe is one of scarcity. And the universe will respond to that vibration by maintaining that same level scarcity. In order to counter this, we must put out a vibration of abundance by believing that we already have what it is we desire. However, it is the very belief that we don’t have enough of something that causes us to desire more of it in the first place. Do you see where I’m going with this?
You want to attract more money into your life because you believe that you don’t have enough money already. But in order to manifest this abundance, you need to get rid of the belief that you don’t have enough. However, if you believe that you have enough already, then there’s no sense of needing more. And if there is no sense of needing more, then there’s no reason to manifest anything.
The very desire to attract more money is actually the belief that money is scarce. The Law of Attraction is essentially saying that in order to attract what you desire, you must not desire it, because the desire itself is what is preventing you from acquiring it in the first place. So the question is, “How do you not want what you want?”
As long as the aim is to manifest something more, then we are operating on the presumption that there isn’t enough already. So perhaps, as I’ve already suggested, the whole aim of the philosophy is misdirected. And more than this, it seems to counteract itself.
So coming back to the idea of gratitude, we can understand that having gratitude for what we already have eliminates the desire for more, thus making it possible to manifest more. But whether or not we actually do manifest more doesn’t really matter, because ultimately the aim is to find satisfaction in what we already have.
So now the question becomes how to shift from desire to gratitude. And this is not always such an easy thing, because we’re very accustomed to being dissatisfied. For whatever the reason, it is easier to imagine how much better things could be, rather than imagining how much worse. Because the reality is that no matter what our circumstances, things could always be better or worse. So it’s really just a matter of which one to focus on.
If we are accustom to always imagining how things could be better, then the cultivation of gratitude may take some practice, and we shouldn’t expect to rewire our thinking process overnight. We just need to find constructive ways to remind ourselves to be grateful.
One way is to simply sit down with pen and paper and make a list of all the things for which you are grateful. Then take this list and put it someplace where you will see it each and every day. You can even take it with you wherever you happen to go, and add to it over time.
Another useful practice is keeping a gratitude stone. As I said before, the film The Secret was not without its good points. This particular practice was one which I took a particular liking to, and which I still advocate.
For those who aren’t familiar with the film, or who may have forgotten, a gratitude stone can be any ordinary stone. It could also be any sort of coin or trinket. It really doesn’t matter what the object is. The purpose is to keep the object in your pocket at all times, and whenever you happen to touch it, you are reminded to take a moment to stop whatever you are doing and think of one thing for which you are grateful.
As long as we’re focused on how things could be better, we will always find the current situation disappointing. This is because our expectations often go unmet. What I’m suggesting here is that we shift from expectation to appreciation. If we look at our current circumstances we can always find something to appreciate, no matter how small. And there are many things which we also take for granted.
What I’m suggesting is that we learn to shift our focus. Instead of complaining that the food is too bland, you might simply be thankful that you have any food at all. Instead of complaining about having to walk to work because you don’t have a car, you might be thankful you have legs to walk on or a means to pay your rent. Instead of complaining about having to pay rent and bills, you might be thankful you have shelter. If you’re living on the street, instead of complaining that you have no house to live in, you might be thankful you have no rent or bills to pay. The truth is that no matter what your circumstances, there will always be something you can complain about, and there will always be something which you can appreciate. The difference in the quality of life depends simply on which of these we give our attention to.