Should we take Wallace Wattles’ personal development classic “The Science of Getting Rich” seriously, or is it full of wild blueberry muffins?
See this guy? Kind of makes you think of Ichabod Crane, doesn’t he?
His name is Wallace D. Wattles, and he’s the author of a New Thought/personal development classic, The Science of Getting Rich.
He was a student of the New Thought Movement, the movement that produced the Church of Religious Science (not to be confused with Scientology) and the Unity School of Christianity, and became one of its voices, sharing some of the same concepts in his writings.
If you do even a brief internet search, you will find the entire text of The Science of Getting Rich (which has long since passed into the public domain) published on several websites (such as this one) and available as a free promotional ebook and audiobook by at least one personal development writer/coach. Having seen this book touted by many, I started into it, but a few pages in I thought I’d ask a friend I knew that was familiar with the material if he felt it had any validity.
This friend is Lyman Reed. He lives in the L.A. area, he’s been blogging on personal development topics for quite some time, and he and I have been aware of each other for about three years. I’ve never met Lyman in the flesh, but somehow something “clicked” early on, and we’ve developed a bond I suspect will last for many years to come.
Recently Lyman has gone through a major change in his outlook on personal development topics. He’s unapologetically pragmatic in his approach now (his blog is even titled Personal Development in the Real World) and I was especially interested in his response from this new perspective.
(Update, June 29, 2012: Lyman’s blog is at the above link, and he is still extremely pragmatic about personal development subjects, but the blog is now titled simply LymanReeddotCom.)
Lyman found my question so stimulating that he proposed that we do a sort of “point-counterpoint” discussion about it on our two blogs. I agreed, and Lyman kicked it off with his post “Is ‘The Science of Getting Rich’ Real World Personal Development?”
Let me restate his conclusions:
So, is “The Science of Getting Rich” real world personal development?
I’d say no. While it does contain elements of it (nothing spreads a lie better than when it contains elements of the truth), there is simply too much in it that is either unnecessary, or presented without evidence, or dangerous, or all of these combined. I understand why people believe in ideas like those found in Wattles’ work – I was once there myself. But I know now that you don’t need faith in a universe that is malleable to your thoughts in order to succeed.
If there’s any “faith” you need, it only has to be faith in yourself.
Clearly, Lyman isn’t pulling his punches here. If I were Mr. Wattles, I’d probably be feeling a little bruised.
The method to gaining riches, the “Certain Way” as presented by Wattles, is a version of the Law of Attraction (LoA), essentially the same “magic” that The Secret’s Rhonda Byrnes and cast claim all of us can invoke. Any discussion about the validity of The Science of Getting Rich will have to address this central concept, which in turn means we’re talking about not just Wattles’ book, but a theme that has run through New Thought and personal development writing for well over a century, and may trace its roots back to before the life of the Buddha.
Lyman makes it clear that he feels the “Certain Way” is a load of wild blueberry muffins. For me, the jury is still out.
What is Proof?
The question of being able to prove the reality of something like LoA comes to mind, and I think realistically this can’t be done. However, because something can’t be proven doesn’t mean that it’s not true. This may seem like an obvious statement, but I think it’s important enough to spend some time on it here.
Let me tell you a story.
Have you heard of “Out of Body Experiences” (OOBEs) or “astral projection”? This is a fairly well known concept because of fiction, television, and movies, but I think because of the way it has become popularized the mass perception is that this phenomenon is basically mythical, used to spice up ghost tales … or fill time in tabloid television stories that no one takes seriously anyway.
I was twenty, and I had gone to bed, laying face down. I was thinking about my girlfriend (let me call her Diane). It was a new relationship, and naturally she was on my mind quite a bit. I recall I was specifically thinking about what her life must be like, and at that moment it suddenly seemed as if I was looking down a hallway. Looking back at these perceptions, I have to note that they did not have the sharp-edge definition of photographs, but had more the quality we think of when we are remembering dreams.
I realized I was looking down the hallway to Diane’s parents home, which was a good ten miles away (I had visited it before) and at the end of the hall was Diane’s room. It’s not surprising that I felt drawn, and it was almost as if I floated or flew down that hallway, and came to rest “floating” over her bed, looking down at her.
Then, another surprise: she recognized I was there. I did not hear any words, but got an impression of a sort of surprised annoyance from her, something like “oh, Dan, what are you doing?” Then, with a jolt, I was conscious of being back in my bed, and I laid there in a daze for a while, astonished at what had just happened.
We spoke the next day, and, yes, she did in fact experience my “visitation,” (and had been surprised as I described, to boot).
(I have never been able to duplicate this experience. I know there are methods that profess to teach a person how to do it, but I simply haven’t taken the effort to weed through these and see if any have validity.)
Now, I have no way of proving this to you. The best evidence (which might have some weight in a court situation … maybe) would be for Diane and me to swear out legal depositions. But, this proves nothing, because Diane and I could both be lying, couldn’t we?
However, I don’t need anyone to prove my experience to me. And anyone attempting to tell me that I am mistaken because these things are impossible is simply wrong in an absolute sense, because I know what Diane and I experienced.
Now, I don’t have a need to prove this to you. More importantly, I’m not insisting that you believe me, because these are the kind of experiences that really shouldn’t be accepted on blind faith.
If you, on the other hand, have a need to disprove my experience to me, then I would have to tell you that you are rejecting reality. Out of courtesy (if nothing else), you should at least accept that I believe that I experienced what I’m telling you I experienced.
Now, I am telling you flat-out that OOBEs are real experiences, because I have had one. What you do with this anecdote is entirely up to you … do you reject it because it’s outside of your experience or your model of how physical reality works? Do you put it in a “maybe” basket and go on with your day because you have better things to think about? Or does it catch your attention sufficiently that you want to do some homework so you can know for yourself to the degree that you are satisfied with the answer?
In my mind, LoA is a phenomenon like this, and I have to put myself in this last category. I am compelled enough by the idea to do the homework to see for myself, though I haven’t gotten a definitive answer yet.
(Please note, I am not trying to tie the reality of LoA to that of OOBEs. If there’s even the remotest relationship between the two, I am at a loss.)
Does the Universe Respond to Our Requests?
I can only offer my opinion on the Law of Attraction, and I am not in a position to state that there is some principle in operation like this in place in the universe. It does seem clear that if this is how our physical experience works, then, as I’ve noted here, it is actually in play every moment, and the world we experience is the result of it — including all the ugly stuff. In my mind, the “teachers” who ignore or blithely dismiss this side of the equation are doing us a grave disservice.
I’ll point you at this article as my first real hint that there may be something to LoA, and I’ll share the following experience that I tend to feel is an indicator.
I had been laid off from my job with a government contractor some time back. There was some money and access to benefits, so I was not immediately concerned, but about a year and a half ago the picture started looking pretty grim, and I set about focusing all my waking attention on finding work. In reading The Science of Getting Rich, it would seem that I unknowingly followed some of the steps Mr. Wattles described. I had some criteria for work that I needed — despite the economic downturn, a salary close to what I had been making with the contractor, and benefits that were roughly comparable, which is something along the lines of Wattles described in Chapter 6. Beyond this, I made a concerted effort to look in gratitude (Chapter 7) at what I did have, no matter how tight and bleak things appeared. After three and a half months of searching I did in fact find that job, and my two criteria were satisfied.
Some contributing reasons that I am willing to consider that something like an LoA principle was involved are these:
1.) After a somewhat intense training period, the job is actually a better rounded one for me than my prior job, involving both a level of physicality and opportunities to use my analytical talents;
2.) The job has a surprisingly high level of security, considering the appearances of the job market and the economy in general;
3.) Despite thinking that there were no opportunities in Las Vegas where I could apply the specialized skills I had learned in my prior career (I was fully expecting to have to move out of state) my job is actually only 4.5 miles from where I live.
Now I’m not going to kid you. It’s not a perfect job, and it’s not an easy one, but it is infinitely better than no job at all. (Gratitude is not a foreign concept, even to this Baby Boomer.)
One theme we hear repeatedly in LoA material (and it’s stated in The Science of Getting Rich in Chapter 9) is the proper use of will in disciplining ourselves into believing we will receive what we want, and dismissing thoughts of lack or failure. Behind this is the need for sufficient motivation to keep an unbroken desire in front of us, and I was motivated, all right — I was motivated by the need for sheer survival. Because of my situation, failure would have been catastrophic, and, simply, was not an option.
For these reasons, I am still keeping an open mind to the idea that something like LoA is how the universe we experience works.
What Side of the Fence Do We Hug?
Despite taking a few chapters to really “get going,” and being almost entirely expositional in nature, I found The Science of Getting Rich motivational, and I certainly don’t fault anyone for becoming an ardent fan of the material. For me, somewhere close to the middle of the book, Wattles managed to achieve and sustain an inspirational tone that overpowered the dryness of the opening chapters, and by doing this won me over.
In Chapter 9, “How to Use the Will,” Wattles makes an arresting assertion:
Things are not brought into being by thinking about their opposites. Health is never to be attained by studying disease and thinking about disease; righteousness is not to be promoted by studying sin and thinking about sin; and no one ever got rich by studying poverty and thinking about poverty.
Medicine as a science of disease has increased disease; religion as a science of sin has promoted sin, and economics as a study of poverty will fill the world with wretchedness and want.
One can only surmise what he would have thought of The CBS Evening News.
As for embracing The Science of Getting Rich or Wallace D. Wattles, or dismissing them both as being full of wild blueberry muffins, I’m afraid I’m not able to take either position with any authority. Until the day comes that I have mastered this thing Wattles calls the “Certain Way” or can demonstrate the concept is a terrible misunderstanding or an outright lie, I’m going to have to stay firmly seated on the fence, as uncomfortable as it might be.
Back to you, Lyman.
Update, June 29, 2012: Lyman’s original article — along with the blog it was published on, Lyman’s Personal Development in the Real World — has vanished in the mists of time, and could only be found through a search of Archive.org. With Lyman’s permission, I have reposted it on my blog, and the links above have been edited accordingly.
Copyright © 2010, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.