It’s been an exhausting day…well, exhausting week, month… A huge marketing event around the corner, GMAT in 3 weeks, pending B school applications…and of course, I’m doing what I do best when there is lots to do…nothing (this seems to have become a specialty).
But I haven’t posted in a while; so I convinced myself that I’m really not doing nothing, but in fact relentlessly participating in the pursuit of a personal goal I set for myself 3 months back – starting and sustaining a blog.
What’s really provoking me to write this time is not a particular read or movie or place, but a thought that’s been developing as a red thread in everything around me these days. With so many approaching deadlines, my exclusive, almost patented, works-best-under-pressure Murphy’s Law has of course kicked in. And as all that could go wrong is going wrong…people around tell me to “Think Positive”.
Now if you have ever experienced Murphy’s law as described above…or scratch that, ever experienced an uncontrollable chain, not cute enough to be called comedy, of errors and mishaps, you would know the chemical reaction a statement such as “Think Positive” would release in the body. A crisis is almost not a crisis anymore till someone repeats the blessed phrase.
But let me diffuse some of those combustible chemicals for now and keep them aside to focus on this post. What is it about positive thinking that has the entire world unanimously in agreement with it? So that I don’t go all over the place with this (if you’ve read my other posts, you would know that this is another specialty of mine) let me give this discussion a structural signpost by discussing a book that lends most direct food for thought on this topic.
The Secret by Rhonda Bryne. Disclaimer: I am neither in the camp of people who despise the book and view it as a double shot of advanced self-help, nor am I a part of the clan that’s jumping up and down with joy at having discovered the Secret and bordering on delusional while practicing it (if I had to choose, I would go with the former, but you should know, I have no bias against self-help books either, I applaud Robert Schuller for Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do!).
For those of you, who seemed to have missed The Secret revolution as it hit the world, this book is based on the idea that the universe will always conspire to bring you what you want if you ask for it the right way; that positive thinking attracts positive events and negative thinking attracts negative events. We already knew this – but the book states that this is apparently a law, one that is backed by scientific evidence that our thoughts have frequencies, which are consistently attracting the positive to the positive and negative to the negative. It works like the law of attraction, or gravity. An impersonal law that is not governed by right or wrong, but only attracts what you think and in that sense makes your wish your own command.
Let me first address the aspects of the book that made me invariably put it down multiple times until I finally decided to get it over with. Perhaps the part I did not enjoy was the big build-up around the theory that “The Secret” has been hidden from the masses by the classes for centuries to keep the “power” concentrated in a few hands. Or the fact that it introduces the scientific law only at a 30,000 feet level, and leaves it at that without discussing any of the supposed evidence. Further, it fails to address and explain the aspects of karma and fate. How does destiny intertwine with thoughts and actions to make events happen the way they do? Or do we really bring on a natural disaster or accident upon ourselves with our thoughts?
But what I do agree with is its general premise: our thoughts do become events to a large extent. When I first read this confirmation, I felt a flurry of panic. What about monkey-minded people such as myself, whose thoughts habitually swing from one to the other within milliseconds? I shudder to think of what I may be bringing unto myself! (Although some events of my life ARE in fact perfectly explained with this theory). But surely, there are many days that start off badly and end the same way, probably shaped by our under-the-breath muttering that kick-started the day. And certainly, there are events such as miraculous recoveries from fatal illnesses that can only be explained by positive thinking and will power. But before I get all Chicken Soup for the Soul about this, this theory, more than anything else, reasons with my senses on a scientific level.
Because the book did not explain the science part of it, I approached Google and found a video of Dan Gilbert, best known for his book, Stumbling on Happiness (http://sourcesofinsight.com/2009/03/05/synthetic-happiness/). Here, Dan speaks about how we can manufacture our own happiness and apparently be as happy when we don’t get what we want as we are when we do get it. This is called Synthetic Happiness. Dan’s books and papers weave together facts and theories from psychology, biology and behavioral economics to prove that synthetic happiness is as real as natural happiness. Human brain can imagine its own future, and predict which path may bring it the most happiness tomorrow. But if the chosen path turns out to be wrong, then the mental stimulator can also adjust itself and synthesize happiness. The difference between winning or losing a game, gaining or losing a romantic partner, getting or not getting a promotion is lesser in impact than we expect it to be.
In this sense then, if real and synthetic happiness scientifically have the same impact, and our brain has the capacity, when channeled in the right manner, to synthesize happiness, then positive thinking does lead to a happier state of mind. Whether the Universe really conspires to bring us what we want, moves places, people, time to make space for our needs and desires and whether this is truly a law as perfect as that of gravity, is still open to interpretation, experience and belief in fate. But what stands true is the premise of the book: Positive thinking does attract positivity, which converts into action and eventually leads to actual events. In that sense then, we can truly shape our future.
This hybrid theory does help me to understand the brouhaha over positive thinking. It also seeks to explain what we have heard for generations in different clichéd ways: make the best of a given situation, live life with no regrets, events are not as important as our reactions towards them, what happens does happen for the best, etc.
In the meanwhile, as the sequel to The Secret is selling a million copies worldwide, I shall hope to find better answers for my questions in that one and practice it for my very own Volkswagen Beetle…it did say the law is impersonal with no judgments passed on the materialistic value of the needs and desires…
These are personal comments and thoughts on the book, The Secret. For a formal review, please visit http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Rhonda-Byrne/dp/1582701709