What Lucky Girl Syndrome gets wrong about positive thinking — and expert advice on how to use manifestation and affirmations healthily.
Seventeen years ago, Rhonda Byrne’s self-help book, The Secret, took the world by storm. Due in large part to an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey, Byrne’s philosophy became so mainstream that visualization and gratitude became the go-to response to anyone seeking advice on achieving their goals or improving their life. After many Gen Xers and millennials spent hours visualizing success by gluing magazine cut-outs onto slabs of poster board, the trend eventually died down. It didn’t disappear, however — it turns out that the belief that you can essentially wish for success and receive it is timelessly and universally appealing. As years passed, longtime devotees and inexperienced newcomers began describing The Secret’s set of ideals with new vernacular, like manifestation and affirmation. Every few years, a rebranded version of the trend would pick up steam to the point where you could once again casually talk about willing your own destiny to your friends, mother, or mailman and not receive strange looks for it.
Of course, Gen Z was too young to participate in The Secret craze since most of them were toddlers, infants, or not yet born. But thanks to TikTok, young adults are now embracing the updated version of this trend — even though it’s eerily similar to positive thinking movements that have come before. Enter Lucky Girl Syndrome, the latest philosophy that will supposedly get you everything you want with almost no effort. Sounds like the American dream.
What is Lucky Girl Syndrome?
Lucky Girl Syndrome is the belief that the use of affirmations and positive thinking will manifest your hopes and dreams — including big wins like money, luxury apartments, or major career shifts. This is identical to The Secret’s philosophy that you can gain riches if you “ask, believe, and receive.” Like followers of The Secret, the Lucky Girl’s *secret* to success is mindset; part of the method’s appeal is that practical, challenging ways to grow are rarely mentioned, if ever. (God forbid you attempt growth by going to therapy, asking your boss for constructive criticism, or planning a budget.)
Content creator Laura Galebe introduced the Lucky Girl trend when she posted a TikTok explaining how she changed her luck for the better. She began receiving more windfalls, she says, when she consistently claimed that she was unbelievably fortunate: “It wasn’t until I genuinely believed that great things just happened to me out of nowhere that [opportunities] started flying at my face.” Her caption for the video advises, BE DELUSIONAL. The post has almost half a million likes.
In the aftermath of Galebe’s questionable recommendation, TikTok is now rife with young creators insisting that positive thinking alone can make all the difference. TikTok creator Alissa Gomez took to the platform to say, “I started doing this for literally two days and the results I saw were actually insane.” (She received a refund in the mail she didn’t think she’d get.) Creator Lauren Yumi says, “I don’t care what anyone says — Lucky Girl Syndrome actually works.” (she got a free Whole Foods smoothie and was on time to Pilates.) TikToker Kaitlin Villatoro says she knows Lucky Girl Syndrome worked for her because she started making a career of teaching other women how to manifest their dreams. (Her bio says you can “manifest LIMITLESS success” if you buy her ebook.) The takeaway is that it’s possible to receive rewards when you simply believe.
Why do manifestation trends reemerge every generation?
Though The Secret was massively popular, it was hardly original. Twentieth-century self-help lovers read similar books like The Power of Positive Thinking and Think and Grow Rich. The Law of Attraction gained prominence all the way back in the 19th century. Similar philosophies stretch back centuries, and they tout near-interchangeable values: Fixing your life comes down to fixing your mindset. In the years since The Secret made its mark, however, both wellness culture and social media have risen vastly in popularity. Naturally, self-help gurus and influencers began positioning age-old positive thinking philosophies as Instagrammable content. So instead of reading self-help books, contemporary young adults often learn about manifestation in short clips of other young adults quickly repeating mantras.
If you’re frustrated by these positivity movements every time they come around, keep in mind that the appeal of manifestation is very human: Everyone fantasizes about achieving their dreams without having to deal with boring, unsexy logistics or crippling uncertainty. Brianna Paruolo, a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in treating anxiety and perfectionism, says that she thinks that manifestation trends give adherents a sense of control: “We live in a world where many things that impact us as individuals are out of our control, and manifesting serves as a coping mechanism.” Life coach and consultant Tracy Kennedy agrees that the sense of control is very seductive: “This is a way we can get more control when we feel out of control.” She also confirms that manifestation trends typically attract followers because they focus almost purely on positive thinking, which feels easy and fast: “It starts with the thought, ‘What’s the fastest way for me to get more of what I want in my life if I don’t want to put in the work?’”
Anna Schaffner, Ph.D., agrees that it’s pretty intuitive to gravitate toward a solution that promises maximum gain with very little effort. Especially when, as Paruolo and Kennedy agree, everyday life feels chaotic or unmanageable. Dr. Schaffner argues that people desire “no-effort fix-cure approaches that require no genuine and hard-earned insights, learnings and growth — which can be painful.”
Can positive thinking become toxic?
Positive thinking, mantras, and affirmations all have their place, and none of these concepts is inherently bad or destructive. In fact, many people successfully use these tools as a step toward change. If a person pairs the tenants of manifestation (visualization, positivity about one’s ability and deservedness, and specific and reasonable affirmations) with action, the blend of hard work and self-love can be productive.
However, manifestation trends can become harmful when people begin to repress negative emotions — this habit of vilifying negative feelings can veer into toxic positivity.
Kennedy clarifies that toxic positivity extends past a normal upbeat attitude. Instead, being toxically positive means that you don’t let yourself or others feel the full breadth of your emotions. She says that even in the midst of a dreadful situation, a toxically positive person will “pretend everything’s OK when it’s not.”
Dr. Schaffner points out that a big downside of manifestation trends is that they can result in victim-blaming when negative experiences inevitably arise: “Everything that happens to us occurs because of what we thought or didn’t think — so bad events are our personal fault.”
Kennedy adds that optimism is a wonderful tool, but compulsively looking on the bright side doesn’t prepare an individual to grapple with inevitable disappointments: “Life’s just not that way. Having this belief that everything always works out for me can make people incapable of dealing with the real hardships when they come.”
Plus, there’s the undeniable fact that TikTok only allows creators to upload a video as long as 10 minutes. These bite-sized pieces of advice can’t go into a ton of depth, so viewers and creators easily gloss over the fact that positivity and self-improvement have a complicated, nuanced relationship. And creators want views, so advice about quick ways to get everything you want may go further than more realistic guidance. And sure, viewers can always open Google for a deeper dive on these trends — with a cursory search, one can find endless professional advice on the reality of manifestation — but a lot of people prefer the easy way out: Scrolling through content that says practical work is not required to vastly improve your life.
How can you use Lucky Girl Syndrome in a healthy way?
The good news is that positive thinking, affirmations, and other Lucky Girl tools can all be used to achieve healing, self-improvement, or having a better handle on everyday stress. Kennedy remarks that dreaming about your goals and ideals might not result in their immediate existence but it can be a tool to help you discover exactly what you value and desire: “Imagine yourself in the truest, most beautiful version of your life, or imagine yourself in a certain job, or imagine yourself in the perfect relationship. What would that be? What would you see and hear and feel like if you were in that?“
Kennedy also uses mantras with her clients, as long as everything is realistic: “When I’m coaching, I’m a big fan of asking, ‘What’s your mantra?’ I believe in mantras. But they have to be grounded in reality, not the toxic positivity of, ‘I’m the best in the world.’” She also advises boosting optimism by being grateful: “I think having a practice of gratitude where you’re confirming the good things in your life is great. So even if you want this job, you’re so grateful for your ability to work through challenges.”
Paruolo adds that basic self-love can be a constructive start to thinking positively: “Self-compassion can decrease anxiety, depression, and fear of failure and boost overall well-being.” An excellent place to start, she says, is by placing your hand over your heart and repeating, “May I experience peace and happiness.” She also advises Radical Acceptance, a tool that can help you accept reality instead of ignoring negative patterns in favor of blind optimism. Progress can become easier when you’re honest: “One can move forward with ‘what is’ instead of being stuck in forced positive thinking, which is just denial.”
Lastly, Kennedy endorses the far less glamorous method of getting what you want: Working. Sure, no one likes resume-building, networking on LinkedIn, or worrying about interview outfits, but positive thinking alone won’t write a cover letter. You might start with visualizing the perfect job, but you also have to address the practical work that self-improvement requires: “What are the steps I have to take? I’m going to get a new pair of shoes. Now I’m going to apply on LinkedIn, submit my resume, and talk to these people. You’re gonna get that job because you have the belief plus the action to back it up.”
Dr. Schaffner agrees that taking concrete steps is important when trying to grow, but says we also need to accept that realistically, we won’t get everything we want: “Achieving our long-term visions requires work, persistence, commitment, resilience, and the ability to learn from failure.” Plus, embracing this complex range of emotions is a big part of a lifelong journey toward true growth: “Life is a combination of joy and suffering, successes and failures. It’s OK to feel sadness, fear, and shame sometimes, because this, too, is what makes us human.”