Sunday, March 11, 2007

It’s No Secret: Happiness is Hard Work

I never thought there’d be a book in the self help section based on Quantum Physics.

A new DVD + Self Help book marketing phenomenon, with a fresh endorsement from Oprah, has arrived on our shores. The Secret, an Australian production, claims that it teaches:

“The Secret to everything - the secret to unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth: everything you have ever wanted.

….For the first time in history, the world's leading scientists, authors, and philosophers will reveal The Secret that utterly transformed the lives of every person who ever knew it... Plato, Newton, Carnegie, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Einstein.”

So what is The Secret? Well it’s based on the “Law of Attraction”. As described by the producer, Rhonda Byrne on Oprah, the Law of Attraction is:

“….the principle that "like attracts like." Rhonda calls it "the most powerful law in the universe," and says it is working all the time. "What we do is we attract into our lives the things we want, and that is based on what we're thinking and feeling," Rhonda says. The principle explains that we create our own circumstances by the choices we make in life. And the choices we make are fueled by our thoughts—which means our thoughts are the most powerful things we have here on earth."

Later in the show, Lisa Nichols, one of The Secret’s experts, describes it this way:

"If you were at a restaurant and you ordered something, you fully expect it to come served that way. That's how the universe is. You're putting out orders—consciously and unconsciously," Lisa says. "So if you say, 'I'll never have a great relationship,' you just placed an order."

On the video, The Law of Attraction is described as being based on Quantum Physics. Somehow, our thoughts change the actual energy of the universe, reshaping reality. In other words, what you think physically changes the world.

After watching a lengthy excerpt from The Secret, I was left with a mixture of loathing and admiration.

I genuinely appreciated The Secret’s profoundly optimistic and hopeful philosophy. Life is a divine gift, and should be appreciated every day. And pessimism is a dangerous corrosive; I have seen people destroy relationships and careers because they believed they couldn’t succeed. Gratitude, appreciation, optimism and hope are all critical aspects of a good life. So far, so good.

But then you get to the baloney about changing the universe with your thoughts.

This is solipsistic superstition that only a narcissistic coward could love. The Secret appeals most to people who are too afraid to recognize how dangerous and tough the world can be, and are so self absorbed they think they can change the world with their own daydreams. Frankly, The Secret is for people who want to live life in denial.

In real life, puppies die. Car accidents happen. Hurricanes occur. And death is an iron rule, avoided by no one. All the visualization in the world will not change this.

Optimism must be combined with realism. My grandfather, a deeply optimistic man, perished in the Holocaust. Ever the optimist, he thought that Admiral Horthy would prevent the Nazis from deporting Jews from Hungary. Unfortunately, his prediction was wrong, and tragically, my mother and her family were deported to Auschwitz. Reality did not conform to my grandfather’s optimistic thoughts.

Yet, at the same time, memories of my grandfather’s optimism inspired his three daughters, (my mother and my aunts), to hold on strong and fight for survival. Optimism was the three sisters' lifeblood. (As it was for many other survivors).

From my grandfather’s example I learned two things: you must be an optimist, yet at the same time, you have to be a realist. The optimism of denial can bring about tragic mistakes. What is needed is an idealistic optimism which empowers people to fight for a happier world.

So for those of you thinking about buying The Secret, remember this. It’s not much of a secret: happiness is hard work.


Anonymous said...

After watching the Oprah episode about "The Secret" I too was intrigued especially since a close friend of mine was utterly inspired by the The Secret. Following her insistance, I too watched. The only idea that I found inspiring was what I interpreted as Tikun Olam - the ability and duty of man/woman to improve our world. Again, this is what I chose to take away from "The Secret".

Unknown said...

Hi Rabbi,
For those interested, a fairly accurate criticism of 'The Secret' and Oprah's involvement in it:

Anonymous said...

Hi Rabbi,
For those interested, a fairly accurate criticism of 'The Secret' and Oprah's involvement in it:
(Sorry I posted this twice, I forgot to put my URL :)