On TikTok, a young woman claims that she has “done gatekeeping”. She would like to tell us the one affirmation with which she earns “hella money”. In typically confident manner, she reels off a single sentence that she thinks the universe has answered over and over again. “I get paid to exist,” she says. “My existence is paying off.” Almost 150,000 people liked it. A less than impressed take cuts through a series of flattering comments: “You have 1.9 million followers, of course you get paid to exist.”
The subtle art of achieving health, wealth, happiness and your deepest desires simply by bringing them into being – aka “manifestation” – is all the rage. Especially when it comes to summoning cash. And fast. Can’t pay your rent or afford a vacation? According to TikTok’s “manifestation coaches,” all you have to do is chant “Money Comes To Me Easy, Money Comes To Me Fast” while blowing cinnamon over your front doorstep. Or you could wrap a tenner around a cinnamon stick and carry it around in your wallet. When it comes to manifestation techniques, the possibilities seem almost endless. In fact, the hashtag #moneymanifestations has garnered over 125 million views, while #moneyaffirmations has garnered 40 million views and counting. To put it in perspective, that’s roughly the population of California, or more than half the population of the entire United Kingdom. Whichever way you look at it, there are many people trying to get rich by harnessing the immeasurable bounty of the universe, using only the power of their minds. And occasionally a selection of aromatic spices.
So what exactly is going on? Why is everyone suddenly trying to conjure money by maintaining “positive energy”? Why do so many people view “the universe” as a benevolent benefactor just dying to write them checks? More importantly, is the so-called “abundance expert” just a snazzy, contemporary way of saying “cheater”?
The fact that people are turning to the internet for financial advice is hardly surprising. For as long as search engines have existed, they have behaved like a kind of collective unconscious; a universe haunted by the desires and fears of mankind. The three spirits in this machine—the restless spirits who keep rising from the dead—are Beauty, Wealth, and Health. “How to Lose Weight”. “How to Make Money”. “Does this mole/headache/unidentified discomfort mean I’m dying?”. It’s also not surprising that the number of people tossing that second phrase into their next or favorite search bar has skyrocketed recently, particularly in the UK. With the current cost of living crisis, ongoing wage stagnation, and for many dedicated and hard-working workers in the rail, postal, healthcare, education, waste and legal industries, a few paychecks being sacrificed for strike action, it would be quite shocking if the People wouldn’t be looking for quick, easy, and effective ways to top up their bank balances.
In the “good old days” of past recessions, advice tended to suggest people take thousands of surveys, start an unspecified “online business,” or sell their furniture, clothes, or organs. Now the wisdom of the Internet seems to have tipped decisively into the mystical. Rather than being career coached into a series of increasingly outlandish side hustles, manifestation coaching is leading more and more young people to more or less “get to their hearts and hope for the best.” Or in short, to embrace “positive vibes”.
If I’m skeptical about this new boom in spiritual financial advice, it’s not because I don’t understand the appeal of the idea that it’s possible to bring money or love into being simply by visualizing it. It’s an undeniably attractive mindset. And, credit where credit is due, there’s probably some truth to the fundamental notion that positive thinking and appreciative approach to the world can transform your experiences, like an emotional placebo effect. What I’m skeptical about, however, is the idea that it can land unexpected thousands in your bank account in the form of “uncashed checks” or vague “prizes.” Additionally, I am skeptical of these manifestation TikTok girlies and the entire cottage industry that has sprung up around ambiguous spiritual tips for financial gain. They all seem to hover somewhere between retro life coaching and modern influencing, at the now well-worn intersection of witchcraft and wellness.
It’s important to realize that the manifestation isn’t really anything new, just like Google searches for what your moles should look like. The claim that eternal happiness and wealth can be “attracted” by maintaining a positive emotional state burst from the New Agey fringes into the mainstream in 2006. At that time the documentary film about spirituality was made The secret was published, followed by the publication of Rhonda Byrne’s self-help book of the same name. An inevitable cast of celebrities jumped on the “Law of Attraction” theory The secret including Ellen DeGeneres, Will Smith, Jim Carrey, and the queen of self-help and pseudoscience Oprah Winfrey — all of whom, of course, were quick to attribute their fame and success to the lush, all-bountiful universe. Ever since I got the Oprah seal of approval The secret has spawned a veritable trading empire. At its root is the idea that staying positive leads to fame and fortune.
A clear boundary can be drawn between the increases The secret and also the modern wellness industry. The Revival of the Tarot. Protective amulets that look and cost a lot like regular high-end jewelry. Gwyneth Paltrow sells crystal water bottles. All of these “law of attraction” girlies are part of a broader economy of influencers building personal brands out of “witch” aesthetics. All sell the idea that spiritual and material enrichment can and should be intertwined.
The truth is that many people make a lot of money from manifestations – but it’s not the people who are hoping that cinnamon powder will help them pay their rent. Rather, it is the “creators” of TikTok and Instagram who are building huge and lucrative followings out of the idea that if you just believe in it, money will come your way. Ultimately, these creators of manifestations are simply capitalizing on people’s fears, anxieties, and fantasies.
Perhaps none of this would matter if the “money manifestation” narrative were not so insidious and pernicious. Because under the guise of “positive vibes,” the manifestation is rooted in a highly individualistic mentality that blames the victim. As with the mandatory mindfulness training days at work, the focus is on adjusting your personal emotional state rather than trying to change the things that are bothering you in the first place.
The socio-political structure you live under is not the problem, this mindset says. Your mindset is the problem. You are the problem. A video that currently has over 38,000 likes on TikTok sums it up so perfectly I thought it was satire at first. In it, Giulia, a self-proclaimed “NYC Creator x CEO,” engages in a dialogue with the universe. “I just don’t have enough and live from paycheck to paycheck all the time,” she says characterfully. She wonders if it’s because her job doesn’t pay her what she’s worth. “No, fool,” the universe scolds her. “[It’s] because you come from a place of scarcity,” it emphasizes. Naturally! Don’t ask for a raise! Don’t go on strike! Do not protest against precarious working conditions! Only think good thoughts! Still poor? Well then, whoops, you don’t have to try hard enough.
Manifestation may look like magic, but it’s really just the old, regressive notion of the deserving and undeserving poor. Only this time dusted with some cinnamon.