Lately it seems that everywhere I go someone wants to whisper the “secret” in my ear. The book and movie phenomenon (and recently released on DVD) that is “The Secret” has caught on like wild fire, perfectly positioned in a media sandstorm. It seems that the path to eternal happiness has been discovered, or apparently just uncovered, as all the wise ones through time have known it but were keeping it from us regular folks. The “secret” that the movie preaches is the law of attraction. Good things move towards other good things, which if used successfully will bring us all the good things we need to be happy. “The Secret” is, like all secrets, a dangerous thing. At first blush it looks like a healthy message, putting out positive energy so that the law of attraction can work for us. But buried in this “secret” are the very problems that have created our culture of misery and thus the need for a secret to save us from that misery.
To begin with, “The Secret” instructs us to feel that we have all the love we need, even when we don’t feel we have all the love we need. It tells us that we must change our belief that nothing goes our way into a belief that everything goes our way. What a terrific idea, only it doesn’t work. Certainly there is nothing wrong with focusing on what we want to bring into our lives or on practicing the feeling of being loved or having enough. But for a person to shift from the belief that nothing goes their way to the belief that everything goes their way entails a process that begins with their starting where they “are.” The old belief must actually heal its way into the new belief. “The Secret” suggests that we can skip this step, that one should be able to put the feeling that actually exists aside and replace it with another feeling that at this moment is not true to their experience. “The Secret” is training us, like most messages that catch on in this culture, to step over the painful part that is looking at what “is” in our lives.
Still, there is another problem with “The Secret” that is far more dangerous and troubling than the one just mentioned. According to “The Secret,” happiness is to be found in possessions: fancy cars, big houses, and money in the bank. These are the things that we should strive for in order to make ourselves happy. It is ironic but within The Secret lies the message that is the very cause of suffering that “The Secret” is attempting to eradicate. The message is that well-being lies outside of us and is something we can “get.” After watching The Secret people are left with the feeling that if they cannot figure out how to acquire the things they want, they cannot possibly be OK. Promoting this misunderstanding as to where wellness or happiness is found is the most troubling of all of the movie’s secret powers.
Nancy Shainberg-Colier is a psychotherapist practicing in Manhattan.