The Secret is wrong. So is Mark Manson.

The Universe aka Santa Claus
The Universe aka Santa Claus

Here is the perfect example of why I feel for people who, lacking a personal philosophy of life and a clear vision of who they are, seek answers among the morass of self help and psychology articles.

On the one hand you have positive psychology and the likes of The Secret. I never read it because after seeing it on Oprah years ago and reading a synopsis I knew it wasn’t for me. If it’s been a while since you heard about The Secret, let me refresh your memory. It’s a mystical spin on positive psychology. There is supposedly this Law of Attraction out there in the Universe that really boils down to: like attracts like. If you think positive thoughts, you put out this high frequency vibration that attracts all the good stuff because the good stuff also vibrates at a high frequency. Ditto for negative thoughts and their corresponding low frequency that attracts bad stuff. Also, if you shout it out into the Universe that you want a certain thing that you believe will make you happy, and you really really really believe that you’ll get it, the Universe (that good ol’ Santa) will provide it for you.

Mark Manson recently came out as hating The Secret. His criticism of this particular book as well as the positive psychology camp minus mystical trappings is spot on and I completely agree. It makes perfect sense to me that this mind set, especially if adopted by people of limited intellectual or emotional capacity or obsessive tendencies, can lead to complacency, extreme risk-taking, and delusional thinking. It can aggravate and perhaps cause rumination, OCD, depression, and anxiety. I agree with Manson that making your own personal happiness your ultimate priority is likely to make you self absorbed and consequently, unhappy.

What I don’t agree with is Manson’s answer to the question, if not The Secret, then what? He says:

Call me crazy, but I believe that changing and improving your life requires destroying a part of yourself and replacing it with a newer, better part of yourself. It is therefore, by definition, a painful process full of resistance and anxiety. You can’t grow muscle without challenging it with greater weight. You can’t build emotional resilience without forging through hardship and loss. And you can’t build a better mind without challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.

So why would we ever expect that becoming a better person is easy or pleasant or…positive?

These are all, by definition, difficult and stressful activities.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to give up on improving myself forever. Pass me the Doritos and the remote control.

I think Mark Manson is an incredibly gifted communicator. His brash, in-your-face style has its appeal. He’s funny. We were talking about Manson in positive terms last night at a party. I think The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***  is wonderful, and this from someone who dislikes the f-word. Very Stoic! I approve. However, in spite of Manson’s way with words and the fact that we both look askance at positive psychology, I would never in a million hire him as a life coach. Sounds like psychological boot camp for the rest of your life.

I don’t believe in these kinds of extremes. Thank merciful heavens I don’t believe my only two choices are between starry-eyed, silly positive psychology and a harsh, stressful demolition and construction project for my soul.

Here is my choice. I’ll even put it to you manifesto style.

I believe that all humans have an innate need to progress and become a little better every day. We all need to engage in some variety of soul crafting. While it’s true that this is not an easy process, it needn’t be especially stressful and certainly not unpleasant! For me it’s a glorious and fulfilling undertaking that brings me great joy. I believe that in order to be brave enough to make ourselves sufficiently vulnerable and have the strength to make difficult changes in our lives, we need to be our own best friends. We must treat ourselves with compassion and fill our lives with the things we love best. We need to find ways to fulfill our needs for beauty and connection, and when we do that, we are able to approach challenging issues from a place of abundance and a strong sense of self worth. Then it’s not nearly as painful or difficult to remove the barriers that hold us back. It is never selfish to take care of our own needs first. It is only when we feel that we are taken care of that we are able to turn our gaze outward with curiosity and generosity and engage with the world in a healthy, effective way. I believe that we find our best answers within ourselves and not in the pages of a self-help book.

5 thoughts on “The Secret is wrong. So is Mark Manson.

  1. I happen to like positive psychology quite a lot, and am surprised at your dislike of it given how many of its tenets you include in your developing personal philosophy (which I enjoy reading so much, thank you for sharing so openly!) I’ll write more in a second comment or perhaps an email when I have a bit more time :-)

    1. Hi, Karen! It’s great to hear from you! Thanks for the comment. :) Please do write more in another comment or email. I probably need to write a more in-depth post about what it is specifically that I object to in positive psychology. I don’t dislike all of it. To sum it up, I find it incomplete. I think it does a poor job of preparing people for crisis and it sets up expectations that are too high.

  2. Hi, I think I agree with you on this, and I love MMs writing. I have read about 40 million self help books and to be positive all the time requires so much effort it is exhausting. Exhaustion depletes seretonin, depleted seretonin leads to depression. Depression leads to another bloody self help book. I watched a distant friend have a nervous breakdown via Facebook, in which he continually posted positive uplifting quotes then disappeared because he was in hospital having had said breakdown.
    But as you say, I don’t think we have to put ourselves through great amounts of pain to become better, we just have to be realistic. Just my opinion.

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