The phrase Law of Attraction, although used widely by esoteric writers, does not have a consensual definition. H owever, the general consensus among New Thought thinkers is that the Law of Attraction takes the principal "Like Attracts Like" and applies it to conscious desire. That is, a person's thoughts (conscious and unconscious), emotions, and beliefs cause a change in the physical world that attracts positive or negative experiences that correspond to the aforementioned thoughts, with or without the person taking action to attain such experiences. This process has been described as "harmonious vibrations of the law of attraction", or "you get what you think about; your thoughts determine your experience". The phrase is closely associated with New Thought beliefs and practices, from which its most common definition arises, but it also has a long standing (and more complex development) in other esoteric fields such as Hermeticism and Theosophy. Recently, the New Thought version was popularized by the 2006 film The Secret.
The more materialistic interpretations of The Law of Attraction have been criticized. The scientific community cites the misuse of the scientific term law and the lack of any scientific evidence for the claims made by advocates for the Law of Attraction, and by some proponents within the New Thought Movement and spirituality in general. The idea behind the Law of Attraction is not new. The concept can be found in Hinduism and, due to the influence of Hinduism on Theosophy, it is mentioned in early Theosophical texts, as well. In 1877, the term "Law of Attraction" was used by Helena Blavatsky in her first book on esoteric mysteries, Isis Unveiled: Secrets of the Ancient Wisdom Tradition. In the April 6th, 1879 edition of the New York Times, the phrase "Law of Attraction" first appeared in a major newspaper article as a reference to attracting wealth in regards to a Colorado gold rush. In 1902, a principle similar to the law of attraction, but not named by that phrase, was mentioned in As a Man Thinketh by James Allen (1864 - 1912). The title derives from the ancient Jewish Book of Proverbs, chapter 23, verse 7: "As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so he is."
In 1906, William Walker Atkinson (1862 - 1932) used the phrase in his New Thought Movement book,Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World. Atkinson was the editor of New Thought magazine, a student of Hinduism, and the author of more than 100 books on an assortment on religious, spiritual, and occult topics. The following year, Elizabeth Towne, the editor of The Nautilus Magazine, a Journal of New Thought, published Bruce MacLelland's book Prosperity Through Thought Force, in which he summarized the principle, stating: "You are what you think, not what you think you are." The phrase "Law of Attraction" appeared in the writings of the Theosophical authors William Quan Judge in 1915, and Annie Besant in 1919.
By the mid 1900s and continuing into the early 2000s, various authors addressed the topic under a range of terms, such as "positive thinking", "mental science", "pragmatic Christianity", "New Thought", "practical metaphysics", "Science of Mind" / "Religious Science", and "Divine Science". Among the mid 20th century authors who used the term were Sri K. Parvathi Kumar (1942) and Alice Bailey (1942), as well as Florence Scovel Shinn (1925).
In 2006, a film entitled The Secret based on the "Law of Attraction" was released and then developed into a book of the same title. The successful movie and book gained widespread attention in the media from Saturday Night Live to The Oprah Winfrey Show in the United States. In September 2006, Hay House published a book by Esther Hicks entitled the The Law Of Attraction that reached the New York Times best-seller list. Also in 2006, lecturers Beth and Lee McCain published their book A Grateful Life: Living the Law of Attraction; the book became a bestseller, followed by speaking engagements and an interview on the Oprah and Friends XM radio show, in which they credited their positive career path change to the Law of Attraction. On the same program professional skeptic James Randi rejected the McCains' belief and instead said their recent career good fortune was nothing more than "being in the right place at the right time".
Many people who accept the Law of Attraction as a guide for right living do so on the basis of their faith in the Universe and The Universe's 'Laws'; thus, to them, the nature of the 'Law' is not one to be settled scientifically, and the word 'Law' carries the same belief-based weight as non-scientific 'Laws' from other religions, such as the 'Law of Karma' and the Ten Commandments. This is especially true among those who are adherents of various New Thought. One common way that New Thought adherents utilize the Law of Attraction is through the practice of positive affirmations. Some proponents of a more modern version of the Law of Attraction claim that it has roots in Quantum Physics. According to them, thoughts have an energy that attracts like energy. In order to control this energy, proponents state that people must practice four things:
- Know what one desires and ask the universe for it. (The "universe" is mentioned broadly, stating that it can be anything the individual envisions it to be, from God to an unknown source of energy.)
- Focus one's thought upon the thing desired with great feeling such as enthusiasm or gratitude.
- Feel and behave as if the object of one's desire is already acquired.
- Be open to receiving it.
Thinking of what one does not have, they say, manifests itself in the perpetuation of not having, while if one abides by these principles, and avoids "negative" thoughts, the Universe will manifest a person's desires. This list of four steps (of uncertain origin), couched in quasi-scientific terms, is quite similar to, and was influenced by, the panentheistic "Seven Steps in Demonstration" first outlined in the book Become What You Believe by Mildred Mann (1904 - 1971):
- Desire. Get a strong enthusiasm for that which you want in your life, a real longing for something which is not there now.
- Decision. Know definitely what it is that you want, what it is that you want to do or have.
- Ask. [When sure and enthusiastic] ask for it in simple, concise language. . .
- Believe. Believe in the accomplishment with strong faith, consciously and subconsciously.
- Work. Work at it. . . a few minutes daily, seeing yourself in the finished picture. Never outline details, but rather see yourself enjoying the particular thing . . . Eventually, you will see a time where it will just appear, as a gift or such, or you may see an opportunity to get what you were asking for.
- Feel gratitude. Always remember to say, "Thank you, God [or the universe]," and begin to feel the gratitude in your heart. The most powerful prayer we can ever make is those three words, provided we really feel it. Feel as though you already have what you wanted.
- Feel expectancy. Train yourself to live in a state of happy expectancy... Find a way it will appear in your life, and keep believing in that. May it be that someone gives it to you, or you find an initiation to get it.