“While visiting Arizona, each time I drove by a housing development I would say ‘I want to live in there or that is where I want to live!'” says author and life coach Christy Whitman. “So we started to look on the internet while living in Montreal for a winter home to buy in Arizona… We saw this house [in a gated community] on the internet, had my friend who is my Realtor go see it and FaceTime with us, and we made an offer. As I drove up to the development to see the house while I was in town before we closed, it was the exact same gate, exact same street and the exact same side of the development that I had been saying I wanted to live in.”

Whitman cites this as an example of the law of attraction (LOA) in action. Simply put, this “law” states that like attracts like — positive attracts positive and negative attracts negative. Thinking that you’re going to be rich or — are already rich — will engender more money coming your way. Worrying about how you’ll pay your bills will just generate more bills and debts.

The law of attraction isn’t just a pop culture trend proliferated by books like “Think and Grow Rich,” or “The Secret.” It has some historical basis in New Thought, a 19th-century metaphysical-religious movement in which people believed human thought, if properly channeled, could manifest amazing changes in followers’ lives.

History of the Law of Attraction

New Thought was sparked in part by an inventor and spiritual counselor named Phineas Quimby, who was desperate to cure a serious bout of tuberculosis. When his doctor’s prescriptions failed to cure the disease, he began exploring other options using his own observations.

Ultimately, Quimby believed that physical illnesses were manifestations of a flawed mind. By healing the mind, he said, one could also fix what ailed the body. He relied heavily on mesmerism (hypnotism) to correct improper thinking, and eventually did bounce back from tuberculosis without his doctor’s guidance.

Throughout the late 1800s, the New Thought movement slowly arose in American culture. Their “mind cure” techniques gained popularity in some circles. By the early 20th century, the New Thought Alliance sought to bring some structure to the wide-ranging, diverse beliefs of the movement with a mission statement of sorts:

“To teach the Infinitude of the Supreme One; the Divinity of Man and his Infinite Possibilities through the creative power of constructive thinking and obedience to the voice of the indwelling Presence which is our source of Inspiration, Power, Health and Prosperity.”