The Gen-Z Manifesting Trend - When it’s a lie and when it can work

Manifesting is everywhere these days, the hashtag “manifesting” has over 3 billion views on TikTok and the hashtag “law of attraction” has even more. The app has hundreds of videos of people claiming a sound or method changed their entire lives. The core principle behind manifesting is that the things we think or feel attract the reality we live. It’s a pretty ancient philosophy, but today’s mainstream resurgence of manifesting – especially among younger people – also hints at a larger feeling of powerlessness in the face of bigger, systemic problems out of our control.


Manifesting is everywhere these days, especially in the cultural collective of Gen Z. You can find “Good vibes only” written across posters and pillows on any visit to your nearest Target – or on DJ Khaled’s TikTok account. The hashtag “manifesting” has over 3 billion views on TikTok and the hashtag “law of attraction” has even more: the app has hundreds of videos of people claiming a sound or method changed their entire lives.

Valeria Romero: “The method is the pillow method… So if it worked for me it’ll work for you”

The core principle behind manifesting is that the things we think or feel attract the reality we live. It’s a pretty ancient philosophy, and an incredibly tempting concept – our troubles will end and our dreams will come true if we just shift our thinking, and envision the life we want.

But today’s mainstream resurgence of manifesting – especially among younger people – also hints at a larger feeling of powerlessness in the face of bigger, systemic problems out of our control. Thoughts, feelings and motivation are important parts of making our dreams reality, but if all that doesn’t bring us wealth, love and happiness, are we really the ones to blame?

James Jani: “Underpinning much of the law of attraction community is this notion of blame. That when things haven’t gone your way, at the heart of it you are to blame.”

Here’s our take on why manifesting’s all the rage for young people today, and whether this modern magic can actually work.

What is manifesting and where does it come from?

Manifesting is far from a new trend. One of the earliest quotes associated with manifesting is attributed to the ancient Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, and popularly translated as: ““Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

Thought leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emma Curtis Hopkins, and Napoleon Hill believed in optimism, “creative visualization,” a divinity that’s inside each person, and the power our minds have to shape reality. Helena Blavatsky, author and co-founder of the Theosophical Society – known as the “godmother” of New Age spirituality – also helped popularize “the law of attraction” in the 19th century.

K. Paul Johnson: “She was a genius. Nobody before her had the audacity to try and do a global reinterpretation of spirituality.”

And this was pretty much the same idea that was later re-popularized by Rhonda Byrne in 2006 with her best-selling book, The Secret – which became a huge phenomenon championed by celebrities like Oprah and Will Smith

The Secret claims that to use the law of attraction successfully, you must ask, believe and then receive – and just like that, the objects of your desires will flow to you.

Other modern manifesting techniques also have their roots in the early 20th century. Take the 3-6-9 method. Nikola Tesla, the famous inventor, is alleged to have said “the key to the universe” resides in the numbers 3, 6, and 9

Jeremy Hecht: “Tesla would literally walk around his building three times and do literally everything 3, 6 or nine times. He was obsessed!”

To this day, there are many manifestation methods that focus on repetitions and significant increments, like the 1111 method or the 555 method.

Others focus on how you express your desire, believing it’s more effective if you whisper or look at your reflection in the mirror. And still others emphasize specific ingredients or components, borrowing from witchcraft and Wiccan practices.

Modern manifestation is riddled with contradictions – And just as easily as you can find a video about how to manifest something, you can find someone saying that’s wrong.

Jasmine Garden: “Stop trying to manifest money.”

Maybe you need to write your manifestations down 33 times, or maybe you shouldn’t think about them at all. With all these different methods and ideologies, it’s hard not to wonder: does any of this really even work?

Should you believe in magic?

Positive thinking has been linked to fewer health problems, higher rates of life satisfaction and increased lifespan – but those links are not ironclad. It’s likely that many people who believe manifesting worked for them are succumbing to confirmation bias – basically, if you attempt to manifest a goal three times and it only works once, the one success will stand out to you more than the two failures. But that doesn’t mean it actually worked.

Anna (Anna’s Analysis): “I’ve never seen anybody be able to demonstrate a causal link between the two things. It’s just like this thing happened and then this thing happened therefore the first thing caused the second thing, and that’s just not how things work.”

And there’s plenty of evidence that manifesting can be harmful. Take, for example, the snake oil techniques many in the community have used to prey on the wallets of those who are emotionally vulnerable and maybe even feeling desperate.

Relying solely on manifesting success can also hinder the work needed to actually achieve it. In a study conducted by NYU psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen, two groups of third graders were tasked with completing a language assignment; the kids who were told to focus on the prize performed worse than kids who were told to interrogate their own behaviors and performance. This example underlines that the surest route to success involves things like strategic and analytical thinking, as well as honest, detail-oriented self-evaluation. An overly magical or superstitious idea of manifesting – in place of more concrete or rational solutions – can be self-sabotaging, and (when it intersects with medical decisions) even dangerous to people’s health

Cathy Goodman: “I saw myself as if cancer was never in my body… I truly believed in my heart with my strong faith that I was already healed.”

Another major issue with manifesting is that it puts all the pressure on us as individuals to resolve issues that might be systemic or outside of our control. Like many individualistic philosophies, manifesting asserts that the only thing standing between people and their best lives is themselves

This is especially frustrating when the person promoting manifestation is a multi-millionaire or billionaire

Rhonda Byrne: “Thoughts come, we energize them, and then they will manifest unless we cancel that thought out.”

Sure, some of these select individuals may possess a special mental power or focus, and maybe that’s a big part of their success, but there’s no evidence that something like manifesting made them so mentally exceptional (and that’s not even getting started on the other factors in their stories like luck, privilege, or genetic gifts)

Meanwhile, there are too many to count whose manifesting hasn’t brought them riches or success. So it’s over-simplistic, and almost cruel, to tell impoverished people they have to just believe they’ll be rich one day.

Jasmine Garden: “Something a business coach shared with me at one time was, ‘You don’t have a money problem. You have an asking problem.’”

Of course people aren’t poor because they have “low vibrations.” People are poor because they were born into poverty; class mobility is significantly lower in America than in Europe and other OECD countries and income inequality is nearly as severe now as it was during the Great Depression. How could this be solved by writing things down 55 times for 5 days?

Why do we want to believe in manifesting – and what can it do for us?

So if manifesting isn’t really going to work for most of us (at least not on the scale we’d hope), why do we keep believing in it?

Partly, we see so many cultural role models who encourage us to keep the faith in manifesting. Ariana Grande writes about it in her song, “pete davidson.”

Ariana Grande: “I thought you into my life… Universe must have my back.” - “pete davidson”

And countless celebrities like Viola Davis, Jim Carrey, Big Sean and Tom Brady attribute some of their greatest joys in life to manifesting-like rituals

What is true in the core of the manifesting idea, is that maintaining a strong sense of focus, motivation and intentionality is crucial to the pursuit of major goals. Many highly successful people do exhibit an unusual level of clarity in their big-picture strategy and sense of purpose. The key is that this isn’t just “magical thinking” – it’s also matched by rational thinking, attention to detail, and lots of dedicated, consistent hard work.

On one level, the explosion of manifesting among young people today– along with the rise in alternative spirituality practices like tarot, crystals, and witchcraft –speaks to a certain powerlessness and desperation: the feeling that, if there’s anything we could use right now, it’s magic.

Ella Ringrose: “Every single thing I write down in my journal manifests, like it literally comes true. Like it’s actually magic.”

The Rise and Grind culture of the 2010s didn’t work. Young people in America feel burned out by grueling, underpaid work, unattainable housing, and rising costs of living.

Skepticism toward governments, religious institutions, and our capitalist system is leading millennials and Gen Z-ers to turn inward and embrace spirituality. It’s a way to escape modern tech and pandemic induced loneliness and connect with something bigger than themselves.


And if that helps anyone, then, great! Overall, the community built around manifesting online is on the more optimistic, supportive side of social media. And while the more randomly superstitious versions of this trend are probably a waste of time, the more intentional versions of manifesting may be onto something important: that being conscious of your thoughts, staying focused on the big picture of what you want, and developing healthier coping mechanisms can put you on a better track. While there’s a lot in the external world we can’t impact, at least some of our struggles can be alleviated through self-awareness and mindfulness (in whatever form we’re able to access it). Sure, we can’t simply think better lives for ourselves into existence – but if we do want to make the outside world better, maybe we should spend less time fantasizing about over-the-top personal desires and more time focusing on our collective ones. Think of what we could manifest if we worked together.

Julia (@unrig): “We’ve said gen z is the generation of change, now we have to live by it.”


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