Words: Ava Ahmann (she/her)
I’m not on Tik-Tok, but as I predicted on Twitter (X) to my lovely 12 followers a year or so ago, it’s a good thing because I’d 100 percent be inclined to be, as I put it, very eloquently I may add, ‘one of those people manifesting sh*t with those specific sounds’; predestined to go down a rabbit hole of pseudo digi-magic. In that tweet I was referencing app users who put up videos of them using ambient gong-esque sounds to lure crushes and achieve other goals with selkie-like magnetism. Despite never fully committing to the app nor the practice, I’m still left wondering where my propensity for this haphazard millennial/Gen Z fixation on immediate gratification came from?
I’m certainly not alone in being invested in these quick fixes for life’s ails. There are a few popular strains of manifestation kicking about online, the latest being “Lucky Girl Syndrome”: the trend where followers repeat affirmations such as ‘things are always working out for me’, or ‘I’m a lucky girl.’ Experts have weighed in to comment on the psychology behind repeated phrases like these, with career coach Lisa Quinn noting in an article for Harper’s Bazaar that they can help challenge negativity bias, encouraging devotees to go for and realise goals. Quinn also accurately points out the privileged and largely tone-deaf angle of the trend, which ignores that life is not fair while also failing to ‘take into account the systemic and structural biases and inequalities that exist in the world.’ This is essential to note when the majority of “Lucky Girl Syndrome” havers, at least as purveyors of the trend online, are white women praying for a pair of cheap and sexy dream jeans at a Berlin flea market, or ceaseless flights and a pay rise at their yummy corporate marketing job. Manifesting material windfalls certainly feels like a strange witchcraft for late stage capitalism: maybe what we all really need is a general strike?
A personal favourite repeat offender is vlogger and stylist Macy Eleni, who frequently prays to the “thrift gods” for a slinky wee pair of Jimmy Choo’s at her local LA thrift, turning to Pinterest to manifest her latest finds. Eleni is hardly a villain, but this sort of manifestation meets religion is one hell of a Western trend. The majority of these practices can be traced back to Hinduism, where meditation and religious rituals pertaining to the connections between mind, body, and universe are paramount. The incorporation of these various tenets into a bastardised, anti-religion-like manifestation definitely feels like a cheapening of a rich cultural standard.
Manifestation has roots leading back to the New Thought movement that reached its peak in the United States in the 19th-century, where theorists lauded the importance of positive thinking as a tool for living righteously, arguing that physical illness originated in the mind and could be changed with a mental switch away from negativity.
Quinn also notes that “Lucky Girl Syndrome” could easily slip into the realm of toxic positivity: the pressure to only display positive emotions, in turn banishing negative ones and engaging in repressive control over negative thoughts or reactions which is wholly opposed to human experience. Recognising and sitting with difficult emotions and situations is necessary: manifesting your way out of them, is perhaps, not. Regardless, manifestation methods abound. For example, the 369 method, the old workhorse of the online manifestation movement which involves writing your selected manifestation, (Refinery29 suggests ‘a promotion’, such girl-bossery), three times in the morning, six times in the afternoon, and nine times at night. Like “Lucky Girl Syndrome”, and my near weapon of choice, psychedelic-gong-manifestation, the 369 method carved out a cosy niche on the internet, especially among younger audiences.
All this perhaps to lay the groundwork for “shifting”, akin to manifestation in that you use your mind to change your reality; however, when you “shift” you enter a completely different world, Hogwarts for some, Stranger Things for others. “Shifting” skyrocketed to popularity during the pandemic, again, taking off on TikTok and fueled by, as you can maybe tell from their preferred “destinations”, young people. Maladaptive daydreaming at a time when our governments failed us and death and illness were omnipresent? An answer to widespread loneliness? Or just the new name for powerful imagination in a digital age? All three hypotheses ring true, at least to a degree.
In a US study published by NIH, 95% of young people aged 13-17 reported using a smartphone to share information, connect with people, and spend their time. Usage was amplified during the pandemic where adolescents found technology to be a crucial connector to other people. This sense of connection is something that many found to be missing from their lives, as young people, those with low household income, and those living alone were all experiencing heightened sensations of loneliness during lockdown in Britain, according to an independent lobby study. In our loneliness we may turn to the internet, and we may equally turn to imagination. Alongside this narrative of a dominant cultural loneliness is one of individualism versus collectivism, which was also a well documented phenomenon during the pandemic. Individualism versus collectivism became a dividing factor in how well nations and populations
Individualism refers to the rights and concerns of the individual taking precedence over that of their community. The cultures of the UK and the US are more or less decidedly individualistic, and in a strange sense the domination of these viral manifestation methods and their emphasis on personal achievements and goals demonstrate this. When the push to perform, to create our own personal narrative, and the desire to exercise individual control over our lives bleeds into our hopes and wishes so much it becomes apparent how isolated we feel, and simultaneously how powerless we can be when we act alone. Our societies turn more repressive and economically dire,
thus we are out here posting skincare montages and repeating vague sentences to “Lucky Girl” our way to happiness.
However, the creative thinking behind this provides an exciting accent to this phenomenon. Imagination is the chance to construct power in an alternative way, and is an essential element of manifestation and largely the allure of these practices, which helps explain the uptake among women, when considering the historic and continued oppression against us. Oppressed people have always had to untangle, to borrow from scholar Olivia Rutazibwa, the ‘unstable truth systems’ that dominate their lives, doing so by constructing alternative realities and ways of getting there. Descendents of witches burned at the stake now using the 369 method? Probably giving these tweens too much credit, and the real witches of the world too little, but nonetheless to imagine, and to think differently, is itself a revolutionary practice. From abolitionist visions for police free communities, to the work towards unconditional safety and rights for Transpeople, to the fight for a free Palestine, revolution abounds, and it demands imagination. The optimism, hopefulness, and desire that is found in manifestation has a home in the struggle. It is its own sort of power, and to harness it will set us free.
Technology Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Ways in Which Technology Can Support Adolescent Well-being: Qualitative Exploratory Study. Guest Editor (s): Amaryllis Mavragani. Reviewed by Alsa Khan and Sumoni Mukherjee https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9997705/
Inside reality shifting: the TikTok trend that took the online fandom by storm. The Michigan Daily, Rebecca Smith. https://www.michigandaily.com/arts/digital-culture/inside-reality-shifting-the-tiktok-trend-that-took-the-online-fandom-by-storm/
Schoepflin 2003, pp. 212–216 Archived 2022-11-01 at the Wayback Machine; Peters, Shawn Francis (2007). When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 91 Archived 2022-11-01 at the Wayback Machine, 109–130.
How has Covid-19 and associated lockdown measures affected loneliness in the UK? https://whatworkswellbeing.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/COVID-LONELINESS-2020.pdf
Card K. G. (2022). Collectivism, individualism and COVID-19 prevention: a cross sectional study of personality, culture and behavior among Canadians. Health psychology and behavioral medicine, 10(1), 415–438. https://doi.org/10.1080/21642850.2022.2069571