Manifestation on TikTok: How Gen Z is Cultivating a Utopian Future Under the Guise of Frivolity
by Megan Robertson
In his poignant work, Technics and Time, philosopher Bernard Stiegler writes that “each day brings its technical novelty, as well as the demise of things obsolescent and out of date. Innovation is inevitably accompanied by the obsolescence of existing technologies that have been superseded… men, domains of activity, professions, forms of knowledge, heritage of all kinds, must either adapt or disappear” (Stiegler 14). In modern life, capitalism and innovation have created a hyper-productive, ever evolving society, seen reflected in online culture. In today’s digitalized world, on every social media platform, there are certain posts deemed ‘trending’. These posts are typically in the spotlight for a rather short period of time, constantly in the process of obsolescence. Additionally, this short-lived, ‘trending’ content tends to be pretty frivolous in nature, across all platforms.
The most downloaded application on the Apple Store, TikTok, is no exception to this notion (Moshin). This short form video application, released to the public in September of 2016, has seen an exponential growth in the past few years and as of January 2021 had a base of 689 million active monthly users, most of whom are teenagers (Moshin). Many are drawn to this app as it appeals to short-attention spans, offering up a new trend weekly. The highest performing posts on this app typically consist of teenage girls dancing and lip-singing to the newest songs. In fact, the most followed user on the application, @charlidamelio, has over one hundred and twelve million followers and over nine billion views on her dancing videos. Looking at these statistics, if this is what millions of TikTok users are viewing, what does that say about our interests, societally speaking, and our collective future? Surely, this content does have benefits, such as allowing many to make a living and bringing unheard voices to the stage. However, it can be frightening to see that these videos are what teenagers are gravitating towards, when in addition to being frivolous, they thrive off of the sexualization of young girls (Ruffolo). Furthermore, what does it do to this population to be constantly viewing and creating such content? Social media has been known to have many adverse mental health effects (Manipod), which seem to be perpetuated even further by the explicit nature of this content.
So, this begs the question, can anything substantial, productive, or empowering come from an internet trend? I myself, a young adult rather versed in social media, was a skeptic of this notion until I discovered #Manifestation on TikTok. In this online space, users have taken to the application to share over 7.0 billion videos of their tips, tricks, and personal experiences with manifestation, the practice of “bringing something tangible into your life through attraction and belief” (Zapata).
At first glance, these videos can seem enwrapped in frivolity and egotism, but, upon diving into the hashtag at a deeper level, I found that many of these videos reveal something much more important: the idealized hopes of a generation for a better world at large.
This paper concludes that #Manifestation on TikTok is not yet another in the long line of frivolous internet trends, as it would appear, but instead mitigates the detrimental effects of social media for its practitioners, all the while ensuring a collective path towards a more equitable and sustainable future.
Toxicity of Online Cultures, as Compared to #Manifestation on TikTok
Due to twenty-first century technologies, perpetuated by the remote nature of the Covid-19 Pandemic, people are spending more time online than ever before. According to data from Arne Holst for Statistica, due to the pandemic, across all devices, daily average in-home data usage has increased by 38 percent since 2019 (Holst). What does it mean when individuals spend so much of their time interacting with virtual communities, as opposed to in-person ones? Furthermore, how does social media impact the mental health of those users?
In her writing for King University Online, Dr. Vania Manipod, DO, explains that, after her years of psychological research, she has come to discover that the use of online platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, can lead to many negative mental effects. She argues that “social media use in excess has been linked to several negative emotions such as increased loneliness, anxiety, and depression…Even as a psychiatrist who is aware of the negative impact of social media on our mental health, I’ve also struggled several times with comparing myself to others, and I’ve had several patients report similar issues” (Manipod). In this excerpt, Dr. Manipod is suggesting that social media can be negative for all parties involved, even highly educated psychiatrists such as herself. However, she recognizes that social media can be rather beneficial in many ways, as relating to network building and job growth. Dr. Manipod concludes the article by providing the reader with a list of healthy practices to implement in their time online, such as limiting themselves and practicing mindfulness. Thus, she is implying that it is not the use of social media in and of itself that is harmful, but it is when these platforms are used excessively and incorrectly that issues arise.
She is not alone in this belief. In a study conducted by The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health Organization, it was noted that social media as an entity is not the problem, but rather the issue is the byproducts it creates. Study co-author Russell Viner, of the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, summed up the argument by stating, “our results suggest that social media itself doesn’t cause harm, but that frequent use may disrupt activities that have a positive impact on mental health such as sleeping and exercising, while increasing exposure of young people to harmful content, particularly the negative experience of cyber-bullying” (Viner). In tandem, these arguments suggest that social media is not necessary the harm, rather, it should be avoided in excess in order for healthy mindsets to flourish.
That being said, in spite of the negativity, toxicity, and real harm present on social media, it seems as if there is reason to believe that there are some positive, even productive, corners of the internet, emerging from users employing these healthy mindsets. One of these virtual communities I have encountered is #Manifestation on TikTok. If one were to search the term “#Manifestation” on TikTok, they would see over 7.0 billion videos of users sharing tutorials on manifestation, in accordance with the Law of Attraction spiritual practices. While coining this term under the larger “Law of Attraction’’ bracket might make it seem intimidating to some, the concept of manifestation is fairly simple in actuality.
The practice of manifestation is essentially, “you think it, and it will come” (Zapata). To manifest, beginning with a state of gratitude and mindfulness, one verbalizes, visualizes, and thereby manifests their wildest hopes and dreams. The basic belief is that that one’s positive input into the world will ensure a positive output on behalf of the universe, much like the notion of Karma.
Over the past year, the concept of manifestation has exploded online, most notably on TikTok. One of the most successful ‘TikTokers’ sharing manifestation videos is a user by the name of @piscesdoll. The analysis in this work will be focusing on one of her best performing videos, with over 2.8 million views, 605,000 likes, 75,100 shares, and 11,300 comments. The title of this post is “Manifest Anything In 24 Hours: The Remember When Technique (:”. In this video, the teenager describes one of the ‘best’ techniques for manifesting, by providing her audience with a fill in the blank sentence to meditate on. She advises that one should write, “I remember when ______; it felt like ________, and today it’s like _______”. She gives an example of putting this theory into practice, by saying, “I remember when I found a thousand dollars; it felt really nice to receive this, and today I have it invested in my savings account”. She concludes by stating that you should thoroughly visualize the scenario you are hoping to receive then, patiently wait, and it will come to you.
This video, in and of itself, is indeed rather intriguing, but the main importance I believe comes from the comments section. While one might expect this to be an egotistical culmination of desires, in actuality it is just the opposite. In this space, over 11,300 viewers, predominantly between the ages of 10 and 19 (Clement), share their wildest dreams for peace, both internally and for the world as a whole, by employing the Law of Attraction. One user commented, “I remember when racism ended, it felt so good, today everyone was equal”. Her statement received nearly 6,000 likes, with other users responding in agreeance, deciding to join her in her manifestation for a more just world. Others focused on personal goals, such as one user who wrote “I remember when I shared happiness with someone special. It felt like I was on top of the world. Today I love myself and am ready to love someone else”. While the comments are rather different in content, one thread remains the same: they all seem to aim for a more peaceful, accepting, and equitable existence.
The Law of Attraction, better known today as manifestation, is not a new emergence. It officially originated in the New Thought Movement of the 1800s by spiritualists Helena Blavatsky and Thomas Troward; but it existed in its essence in prior thought practices such as Buddhism and Christianity (Hurst). These videos regarding manifestation could have ventured towards cultural appropriation of Buddhist and Taoist practices, but, fortunately, it appears that this is not the case. There is a large group of Asian and BIPOC TikTok creators educating on the origins of the Law of Attraction, which seem to be well received by white creators and audiences, largely reducing the tendency towards appropriation.
So, it is evident that TikTok users seem to gravitate immensely towards this historical spiritual practice, but it is crucial to note that this infatuation with manifestation is not confined to Gen Z. The Law of Attraction has held popularity throughout the ages. In 2006, the bestselling Law of Attraction Book, The Secret, sold over 30 million copies. The movie inspired by this work also gained immense popularity and was embraced by influential figures in the media, such as Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. Other celebrities such as Will Smith and Jim Carrey have spoken publicly about their experience with manifestation and the Law of Attraction, claiming it helped them immensely in achieving their acting success (Daniels). Additionally, communities online, in addition to TikTok, have embraced this spiritual practice, such as, TheLawOfArattraction.com with over 6.8 million community members and the Law of Attraction Reddit Group with over 142,000 members. Overall, it is clear that manifestation and the Law of Attraction are rather popular, and, from personal narratives, seem to be rewarding for those who practice.
Intersection of Spirituality with Harmful Online Culture
Researchers are clear in indicating that social media can negatively harm mental health, due to the nature of the content and the continuous process of its obsolescence, as Stiegler notes. In a time when most of life is within the confines of online platforms, this could be extremely dangerous. However, by looking at #Manifestation on TikTok, it is evident that there has been some good to come from these online communities. So, being that this is the case, what does it mean when spirituality intersects with the toxicity of social media?
To adequately answer this question, let us first look into the mental health implications of spirituality, as it pertains to the Law of Attraction. When one manifests, they are told to start from a place of gratitude, being in a state of thankfulness for the plenty of the universe. In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, it was found that “grateful individuals experience better physical health, in part, because of their greater psychological health, propensity for healthy activities, and willingness to seek help for health concerns” (Hill). This study shows that the practice of gratitude helps people to appreciate and care for their bodies, both mentally and physically. Thus, as a byproduct, it could be said that manifestation can lead to this same result, increasing health and longevity.
Another key practice of manifestation is mindfulness. The person manifesting is instructed to be mindful of themselves and their relation to the world around them. This mindfulness, as earlier mentioned, is often noted as having its origins in Buddhism. Buddhist practitioner Sundra Takagi writes, in describing both the Law of Attraction and Buddhism, that this mindfulness is “a respectful awareness that we don’t act alone – that our every thought and deed is part of an interconnected web of humanity and life overall” (Takagi). This mindfulness that Takagi writes about has been examined by many researchers for its health benefits. A recent Huffington Post Article, compiling reports from the American Heart Association, The University of Washington, and Utah University; concluded that mindfulness practices can be used to aid treatment for mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder (Francis). Additionally, according to a new study from the journal of the Association for Psychological Science, it was found mindfulness practices have a positive correlation to high performing student test scores. These researchers wrote that “our results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with wide reaching consequences” (APS). Both of these works suggest that mindfulness practices, a key component of manifestation, can help to resolve pre-existing mental health issues and increase cognitive function.
Therefore, it appears that manifestation, by employing the practices of gratitude and mindfulness, can have a drastic increase on a practitioner’s mental health and cognitive function. Back to our question, then, what does it mean when this healthy practice is used in conjunction with a media that is known to cause such mental harm?
In the journal of Mental Health, Religion, & Culture, a study was conducted in 2016 viewing spirituality’s effects on social media harm seen on Facebook. After much deliberation, the researchers came to learn that although “social media…was significantly positively associated with depression, anxiety, and stress…spiritual well-being mediated the association between social media intrusion and stress” (Wood). In this study, researchers essentially discovered that spiritual well-being, whether it be religious or otherwise, could allow social media users to engage with the platforms without being as likely to fall into a harmful mindset. These findings are particularly relevant to the #Manifestation Community on TikTok, as it too is a spirituality movement in midst of a toxic online culture.
Thus, these research findings suggest that negative mental effects of social media, notably of TikTok, can be mitigated by engaging in practices that increase mental health, such as #Manifestation. Where other online spaces aid jealousy and comparison, #Manifestation creates an environment of dreamers, all hoping to do better in the world, embracing gratitude and love for all within the universe.
Implications for Broader Society
It is evident that the #Manifestation Community provides a bridge between the old and the new, the Silicon-Valley tech developer and 19th Century Spiritualist. This TikTok community connects billions of users to the past; by posting videos about the origins of the Law of Attraction, they are making history come alive by bringing it into a modern social sphere.
It is evident that spirituality can act as a mental blockade for social media users, shielding them from the negative ramifications of social media platforms. The question then arises: what does this mean for the broader population, for those who do not post or view these videos on TikTok? What does #Manifestation on TikTok ensue for our future world at large?
A 2015 Central Michigan University study was conducted to see if mindfulness practices, a key component of manifestation, had any impact on sociocultural biases. In this study, the researchers were able to discover that “mindfulness meditation caused an increase in state mindfulness and a decrease in implicit race and age bias” (Lueke). If billions of teenagers and young adults across the globe are participating in manifestations practices, known to decrease age and racial biases, imagine what our world will look like once Gen Z carries these notions into the broader societal sphere.
Although manifestation and the Law of Attraction have existed for centuries, they have never seen the rise in popularity that is occurring today. #Manifestation on TikTok encompasses over 7.0 billion videos, which supersedes all prior societal successes of manifestation; there has never been such popularity regarding the Law of Attraction. My personal belief is that, in our current state of hyper-productivity, as Stiegler notes, when TikTok users, mostly young adults, take the time out of their day, amidst a global pandemic, to make 7.0 billion videos, on a notably harmful app, sharing practices that aid mental health and increase racial equity, how could our future look bleak? This must be a step in the right direction towards a more just society. As Buddhist Practitioner Sunada Takagi writes on the Law of Attraction, “everything we experience teaches us something valuable and helps us grow. And by continually striving to be a positive influence in the world, we make it a better place not only for ourselves, but for everyone around us as well” (Takagi). When manifestation is used in hopes of making the world a better place for everyone around us, as opposed to fulfilling egotistical desires, Gen Z’s idealistic hopes become closer to fruition. The comments in @piscesdoll’s video show just that, TikTok users who have used manifestation to work towards a more equitable and sustainable future.
As of this point, to my knowledge, there is only one article in addition to my work examining the connectivity between The Law of Attraction and TikTok. The fact of the matter is, no one knows how this story is going to end, how this one trend is going to impact the world as we know it. There is so much that is uncertain. However, we can examine recent events to get a glimmer of an indication. Just this year we have seen, in both the climate crisis and the Black Lives Matter Movement, how our youth can step up and take action for the betterment of the world. Why should this notion not apply to spirituality? I believe that with time, we will see that #Manifestation on TikTok is not just another in the long line of toxic online fads, but instead is the way towards a better future, one in which health, gratitude, hope, and equity reign.
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Zapata, Kimberly. “Exactly How to Manifest Anything You Want or Desire.” Oprah Daily, 26 Mar. 2021, http://www.oprahdaily.com/life/a30244004/how-to-manifest-anything/.
Megan Robertson is a first-year, honors college student at the University of San Francisco double majoring in Media Studies and Performing Arts & Social Justice. When not writing, she is an organizer for the Democratic Party in her childhood home of Georgia, radio show host at KUSF.org, theatre performer, and avid traveler. In her work as a writer, she is interested in finding the intersection between artistry and political advocacy, examining how these notions manifest themselves within a broader, global sphere.
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