Rhonda Byrne's The Secret: The Power (2010) is truly an incredibly bad book, simplistic, repetitive and divorced from real history, politics or economics, yet it has sold 19 million copies. A cynic might say that the real secret to wealth is writing a bestselling book that millions will buy. Her 2006 book The Secret sold more over 19 million copies and was translated into 46 languages, and she was also a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show and many others on the daytime TV chat circuit. Like all self-help writers, she has a talent for publishing the same advice repeatedly in new books that claim to offer even greater insights than past philosophers and religious teachers and in 2007 Byrne wrote The Secret Gratitude Book, followed a year later by The Secret: Daily Teachings. Her latest offering is about 250 pages long and quickly appeared on the bestseller lists, which indicates the type of strong cult following that all publishers desire. Byrne's central thesis is that human beings can change their entire lives and have everything they want simply by wishing for it, including money, wealth, happiness, careers, and romantic relationships. This magical Power is based in love or the law of attraction, by which every individual can engage in wishful thinking that will guarantee a life full of love, happiness, and all the money they ever want.
Byrne believed that everyone had this unlimited Power over their life circumstances, and that all wealthy and successful people in history have used it no matter whether they knew it or not to obtain all their desires. No special religious or ideological belief is necessary to use the Power, which can be manifested in the form of lucky charms, miraculous cures from illness and good luck. This secret Power of love already exists within everyone, but they are usually unaware of it even though love really is the greatest Power in the universe. Love is a great force or law of nature like gravity, nuclear power and electricity, and in fact is stronger than any of these. It is more than just an emotion or feeling but one governed by laws of attraction that can be harnessed to give every person total control over their lives, and it can be activated by the power of positive thinking. As Byrne repeats over and over again, the Power is a scientific law, not magic and religion, and anyone who generates good or bad thoughts and feelings will get back the same. Emotions are literally magnetic frequencies that attract similar emotions, and good feelings are on a positive frequency that brings love. People all have the Power to create their own reality, and everything they hate or fear will also be drawn to them, including poverty, hunger, illness and failed relationships. Using the Powers requires the person to eliminate hate, greed, envy, malice, irritability, despair and insecurities and replace them with love. Once all the negative feelings are gone, then people will always attract money to themselves, while worrying about finances will only drive it away. Byrne insists that 'you are what you feel' and what you feel is what you get, so reacting to the negative with bad feelings attracts more negativity. She then takes it further -- one can have anything just by visualizing it.
Her advice for improving the careers, love lives and health of her mostly white, female middle class audience is to let love become the basis of life over any other ideas or emotions. She claimed the she was the first to discover this central truth, rather than Jesus Christ or other great scholars, prophets, scientists and philosophers in history, and that once people join her, they will all be kind to each other all the time. Once they stop worrying and complaining, and learn to express love, gratitude and appreciation for everything, they will then obtain the houses, cars, jobs, money and security that they desire They will no longer get old and sick, be free from pain and disease, and even jet lag, and would spend their time only doing acts of kindles and generosity. Indeed, they would save themselves and the entire world, inasmuch as there is a world or universe outside the self at all. In short, the Power to create everything, change everything, have anything the heart desires already lies within, if only humanity could learn to use it. People can get anything they want from parking spots to cures for diseases just by wishing for them and pretending that they already have these things. Even water responds to love and positive, warm feelings by becoming energized and perfectly harmonized, but it becomes chaotic and de-energized when confronted with negative vibes. This is important because the body and the brain are also about 80% water, and negative thoughts and emotions will results in damaging physical and psychological effects. Byrne feels love, gratitude and bliss for every moment in life and for the entire universe, not least because she has become a millionaire from books sales and TV appearances. She seems to regard the Universe as some kind of giant slot machine that pays every positive thought and emotion back in fulfilled wishes.
It would be asking too much for a popular advice book writer like Byrne to define happiness beyond a very shallow level of money, pleasure, fame and material success, or even to be aware that philosophers and religious teachers in history might have understood these matters very differently. For example, Aristotle offers several definitions of happiness (eudaimonia) which can exist at the level of physical pleasure, a life of civil involvement and practicing virtue, or the ultimate form of happiness which is the contemplation of God and spiritual and eternal matters. Just as there are degrees of pleasure and pain, so there are degrees or happiness and virtue. Happiness is the supreme good and the ultimate goal of life, but not all individuals define it in the same way and it appears that only a few truly reach the highest levels. Most people confuse happiness with physical pleasure and carnal gratification, including food, alcohol, sex, and accumulating money and material things, but Aristotle does not regard this as the supreme good. Far from it, although it probably seems satisfying enough for the great majority of humanity that happiness should be identified with a life of abundance of physical pleasure and the absence of pain. Many people are slaves to passions and pleasures, so the glutton who finds happiness with consumption of food will have no higher goal than good food, and the alcoholic will be happy with an abundance of intoxicants. Even animals exist this way, but for Aristotle humans are rational beings with immortal souls and were therefore created for a much higher and transcendent form of happiness. Aristotle privileges the higher or rational part of the soul (nous), which able to have communion with the divine, rather than the lower, animalistic lusts and instincts.
Jesus Christ, Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi would also have defined love differently, such as service to others, loving God and one's neighbor as one's self or sacrificing for the common good rather than simply concentrating on the self and personal desires or accumulating money and material possessions. She does cite Gandhi completely out of context, ignoring his lifetime of work against racism, poverty and colonialism by using his statement that "whether humanity will consciously follow the law of love, I do not know. But that need not disturb me. The law will work just as the law of gravitation works whether we accept it or not" (Byrne 2010). In her shallow and vacuous worldview, Gandhi was not referring to the social and economic condition of the poor in India and around the world, but only to the need for middle and upper class Westerners to develop positive feelings towards money, which Gandhi never had in his life. After all, he lived in a village with the poorest peasants in India, wore a loincloth and in the end sacrificed his life in the cause of peace and social justice, as great religious leaders have often done throughout history. None of this courage or self-sacrifice appears in The Secret: The Power, though, which advocates only hedonistic consumption, egoism and self-interest.
For Byrne, in fact, nothing exists outside the self and its desires, which are in fact some kind of wish-fulfilling machine that can generate anything the imagination can devise. Of course she is not aware of more advanced philosophical terminology like existentialism, solipsism or phenomenology, but on a very crude and basic level she reflects some of these ideas. She has anecdotes about how her wishes were simply fulfilled like magic, such as a dress that she saw in Paris appearing in a store window near her home, or how people used the Power to win the lottery, obtain luxury items that they desired, or even the right parking spot at the supermarket. Byrne describes…