Arment Dietrich

The Secret to making an obscene amount of money is spinning an unlikely and misleading story

By: Arment Dietrich | July 25, 2007 | 

Want to get rich quick?  Want to stay healthy and find true love?  Want to lose those love handles?  Well quit thinking fat thoughts, doughboy, and think positive!  It’s all right in front of you…so says the author of “The Secret,” the Oprah-endorsed best seller that claims to hold the secret to success in its faux-dog eared pages.

But despite its impressive sales, the book seems contrived, with the authors sitting on the golden pedestal of manufactured success, talking down to the masses.  The secret, according to author Rhonda Byrne, is to simply think happy thoughts, like so many Peter Pans.  The power of positive thinking can, apparently, overcome war, disease, poverty, and loneliness.

Here’s what one blogger writes, in support of the book:

“It’s a three-step process: Ask. Believe. Receive.

She likens it to sitting in a restaurant and placing an order. We look through the menu, choose what we want, tell the waiter about it, and sit back and relax, waiting for it to come with the absolute faith that it will. ASK: look through the menu of the universe and choose what you want to achieve, or what you want to be. BELIEVE: have the utter conviction that sooner or later, you are going to get it. RECEIVE: be as you would be had you already got what you want. If having the wealth of Bill Gates is what you want, believe that you already do, and be as happy and as content as you’d be if you had it.”

Here’s my take: You’ll receive your food because you ordered it and the waiter believes s/he will receive a tip…even though s/he didn’t ask for it.  Also, that’s how restaurants work.  Big deal.

To me, the power of positive thinking sounds like a load of hooey.  And the fact that millions of people are buying this book and its DVD counterpart screams spin.  It plays off people’s hopes and fears.  It belittles those – like me – who are under the (apparently false) assumption that hard work can propel you to success, and deigns to suggest that happy thoughts can bring you all the material possessions you’ve ever wanted.

Worst of all, I think, the book trumpets materialism, making televisions, fast cars, and designer clothes seem the height of happiness.  It seems shallow to me, and the fact that moguls like Oprah give the thumbs-up, legitimizing this drivel, is obscene.  Certainly it’s a good thing to have positive thoughts, but that alone will not erase your debts, it will not find you love; it will not stave off obesity or disease.  There’s more to do on your end of the bargain. 

I’m not just ranting after reading reviews and hearing criticism.  My ex-girlfriend gave me the book; I gave it a chance.  But seeing as she’s still my ex-girlfriend, I can say with all certainty that “The Secret” is full of it. –  Alex Parker

  • While I agree 100 percent with Alex, I do believe the real secret is believing you can do anything. I believe that if I have a goal, if I write it down, and I tell people about it, I achieve it…and usually sooner than I expected. It’s like these wish necklaces that are all the rage (and that I wear). You make a wish, you put it on, and when the thread breaks, your wish comes true. Guess what? It really works! Want to know why? Because you’ve created a goal, you’ve articulated it, and you work to achieve it. I’d like my multi-millions now.

  • Gaylord Briley

    I know “The Secret” was doubly endorsed by Saint Oprah, but the book completely misleads all its readers.

    Dr. Norman Vincent Peale —— I worked with him personally, two days a month, for exactly 18 years, raising $250 million for his several Christian charities by Direct Mail.

    (He was a “strapping youth of 70” when we started working together and 88 the year we laid down our pens. I was his ghost writer, visiting his office near his country home in Pawling, NY.)

    I know The Secret is supposed to have some linkage to Peale’s 46 books, but it does not.

    Every day I see blogs where “Secret- readers” are wishing, hoping, trying to find some token that tells they they are wishing hard enough…and mostly failing.

    That is NOT what Positive Thinking is. In fact, few people know that Peale tried to title his 1952 book as “The Magic of Believing” but could not, for another author beat him to it.

    He was very upset and discouraged. It was not until Myron L. Boardman, then editor at his publisher’s office, reexamined the book’s content and said “Why not call it ‘The Power of Positive Thinking?’ You use the phrase a couple of times in your manuscript.”

    THAT was the reason why the book assumed its award-winning title. They went to press not long after.

    But if you examine Peale’s text with any care at all, there is NO evidence that the good doctor rewrote anything much to make the old text conform to the new title.

    He had one sermon/speech title he always used when he made an address away from Marble Church. It was “Why Positive Thinkers Always Get Positive Results.”

    In fact Nelson Publishers squeezed a book out of him with almost that title in his last productive years. But the title is not as strong as the crowd- compelling speech-title since Peale himself simply never gave Positive Thinking the kind of emphasis that his imitators did.

    In the 51 years from his book’s release until his death in 2003 Peale NEVER added any new principles to his after- dinner speeches.

    In two of my several books over the years — “Are You Positive: Five Simple Steps to Success” (Berkley Books paper, 1988) and “The Seven Spiritual Secrets of Success” (Thomas Nelson, 1995) — I took every meaning of “positive” in my giant Random House Dictionary and showed the best meaning for Peale was the one single word “posit,” as in “positing one’s goals.”

    If readers want to read a recently- republished book from the “father of success teachers,” from whom Peale clearly adapted some of his topics, I refer them to “Every Man a King” (1924) by Orison Swett Marden.

    Dr. Gaylord Briley

  • Thank you for your comment, Dr. Briley. I think this goes to show just how much spin goes into the Secret. Not only is the idea unoriginal, it’s a bastardization of previous thinkers’ work. I wonder what the Secret says about karma.

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  • Thea

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  • Alex Parker

    My basic problem with the Secret is it’s promise of easy riches. If you have a positive attitude and work hard to attain a goal, be it fiscal, love, whatever, I think that is fine. But by sitting around waiting, hoping for that phone call or check to come around, you’re fooling yourself. By that measure, the Secret is a fraud.