‘Lucky Girl Syndrome’: The latest example of toxic positivity on TikTok
The practice of ‘manifesting’ anything you wish for is not only misleading, but it can also carry negative consequences in the long run
“‘Lucky Girl Syndrome’ is essentially where you just believe that you’re the luckiest person ever, and become it. And the reason this works is that we’re using the Law of Assumption, which is: that which you believe to be true, becomes your reality.” This is how TikToker @hothighpriestess explains a phenomenon that she herself has helped make popular (by selling online workshops on that subject) and that has taken TikTok by storm in recent weeks.
“Ever since I started doing this, opportunities fall into my lap,” explained another user. “It wasn’t until I started to believe that great things will always happen to me that all this worked,” she added. Aira, a Spanish TikToker, tried to give it a scientific spin by talking about the reticular activating system, which is a bundle of nerves at our brainstem that filters out unnecessary information so the important stuff gets through.
TikTok is filled with people talking about how this worked for them (they got new jobs, bought a house, got a raise or even won bets), while others try to debunk the whole concept or contribute ideas on how to apply it. Basically, to be the “Luckiest Girl in the World” you have to “manifest” your wishes by writing them down in your phone’s notes app or, if you have more time and a creative streak, creating a vision board on a poster board with photographs that represent your goals. Also, according to other TikToker, it doesn’t hurt to keep a “gratitude diary” to thank the universe for all the gifts, just to be on the safe side.
A popular way to become a lucky girl is known as Manifestation 369, which requires you to write a wish three times in the morning, six in the middle of the day and nine before going to bed. Another technique is the 55x5; for this, you have to write your wish 55 times a day for five consecutive days. Some people keep it simple and just make a tweet or a TikTok video to officially document what they’re after, while others resort to manifestation coaches like Kristen Jenna, an influencer who in 2019 founded a “manifestation academy.” Or Marissa Moon, who uses herself as an example: by manifesting money – she explains in her multiple channels – she was able to leave her corporate job and now lives in Bali, helping her clients achieve the same.
A variation on a theme
At its core, the Lucky Girl Syndrome is a variation on a practice that has been popular for some time: the idea of manifesting positive things by vehemently thinking about them. Philosophers like Ralph Waldo Emerson introduced the concept in their work in the form of the so-called “rules of attraction,” and in recent decades that unconditional positivity has found fertile ground in popular culture, be it in best-selling books like Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret (which was made into a mass phenomenon by Oprah and appeared in series like Sex and the City) or through what is known as the industry of positive thinking. Perhaps the thing that differentiates the Lucky Girl Syndrome from the rest is its pragmatic approach. “I started joking about how hot I am instead of joking about being ugly, and now I’m hot,” explained an advocate of the theory, without a trace of irony. Another adherent said: “The day after I started practicing this method, somebody paid for my manicure and I got plane tickets for less than I expected.”
Like previous versions of positive thinking, this recent trend tries to add a layer of science to the theory. Those who support it usually quote neurological studies, like one that was carried out in 2015 and was published in the book Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, which proved that positive affirmations activate parts of the brain that are related to self-perception. Confirmation bias (the principle that, for example, makes a pregnant woman see pregnant women everywhere) is also mentioned frequently. Building on this idea, one comes to believe that thinking about money brings money. These phenomena are part of a concept known as toxic positivity, which brings attention to the fallacy of emphasizing positive thinking and to the trend’s negative consequences, like the denial of pain.
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Edgar Cabanas, co-author of the book Manufacturing Happy Citizens: How the Science and Industry of Happiness Control Our Lives, believes that this phenomenon “is a form of magical thinking,” according to which material things are just a product of the imagination or the individual perception. “Thinking that we can change circumstances, manipulate results or change as persons only by adopting positive thoughts and attitudes, although tempting, is not only misleading, but also, among other consequences, causes guilt,” he added, “because when things don’t turn out as we envision them, we tend to take the responsibility for the result not being as we wanted or expected. In addition, it produces the false feeling that everything that happens is under our control, when – fortunately or unfortunately – that is not the case.” The act of manifesting, to begin with, chooses to ignore the fact that it is not the same to wish for things from a privileged position than to do it when you have everything against you.
Even though there are men who believe in this practice and women who criticize it, the term Lucky Girl Syndrome is noteworthy. Does the positive thinking industry target women, and young women in particular? Cabanas does not think that is the case anymore: “Decades ago, the most spiritual and pseudo-religious self-help was focused on a female audience, while self-help for business was focused on a male audience. Now, however, things have changed. There is no clear gender demarcation, it has a universal appeal.”
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