For the past five years, Hannah Gregan, 23, has been practising manifestation, the spiritual practice of turning thoughts and intentions into reality. While struggling with her mental health and studying psychology at university, Gregan decided to make a change. “I didn’t necessarily agree with everything I was learning at uni,” she says. “I was finding a lot of the science behind it was contradictory with my personal journey, so it made me look elsewhere and it’s really helped me with managing anxiety and improving my mood overall.”
Gregan says that gratitude, journaling and thinking about what she wanted her future to look like impacted her mental health positively. Now she runs Mindmap Mentality, where she offers one-on-one life coaching for others and makes TikTok videos for her 12,000 followers.
As with everything else, there’s a corner of TikTok for every iteration of manifestation. The “manifestation” hashtag on the platform has had nearly 15 billion views and counting. Popular champions of the practice include the contact-lensed William Knight standing in a forest, looking directly into the camera saying, “There is no such thing as coincidence”. There are TikTok sounds – sometimes a single mystical note – that apparently conjure up someone from your past. There are songs about having an abundance of money that will bless you with cash if you listen repeatedly. You can create a vision board of images of all the things that you desire. If you wish to escape the world and manifest yourself into a different timeline, apparently stepping in and out of the running water of your shower helps.
Manifestation coach Marian Valenza’s TikTok guide on timeline shifting that has been viewed over 170,000 times. “Water is super powerful and our earth is made up of 90 percent water and it can be in all different states. It’s a powerful medium to help you shift,” she explains.
After a near-death experience in 2014, Valenza uprooted her life and moved from Los Angeles to Miami. She says that she has turned her life around by constantly bringing intention into her thoughts and actions and now runs her own business Thriver Lifestyle, which focuses on helping women “reclaim their power and manifest their dream lives with pleasure and feminine energy”.
“[Manifestation] completely changed my life,” she says. “But when I started eight years ago there wasn’t really anyone I could talk to about it. I just read and watched some YouTube videos and now manifestation is trending.”
Leaning into spirituality and manifestation as a practice isn’t anything new, says Dr Patrick Rosenkranz, senior lecturer of the psychology of religion at Newcastle University. “The move from institutional organisational religions has been going on for, at least across the last 100 years,” he explains. “The baby boomer generation was one of the first to really look for spiritual meaning out of the confines of the classic institutional religions and then we've got the new age [movement] as well – I feel that manifestation falls into this, to some extent.”
Why young millennials and Gen Z are becoming increasingly interested in manifestation could just be down to having nothing else to do during a pandemic, or it could be that broadly subscribing to the idea itself could be a good thing. After all, studies have found that believing in a greater power could have a positive effect on the way you view and interact with the world around you. People who are devoutly religious show lower scores on depression and anxiety; they also tend to live longer.
“I’m a very basic manifester,” Gregan admits. “The practices that are involved, like gratitude and journaling, positively impacts your mental health whether you think it is a spiritual thing or not. Some of the more out there techniques are boosted and they get viewed a lot but I think a lot of it will fade out eventually.”
Gregan says that most of her clients are interested in manifestation for the same reason she was: They were struggling with their mental health with nowhere else to turn. In 2021, following England’s initial lockdown, mental health referrals in young people doubled since the previous year. “I was on the waitlist for therapy for over a year and I was only offered medication. There was no holistic support, nobody ever looked at my diet, my belief systems,” she says. “If their lives were perfect and they were feeling optimistic, they wouldn't need to be manifesting. They wouldn’t want to because they have everything.”
“Having everything” is what most of manifestation TikToks focus on, like wealth, beauty or the perfect partner. In short, most people manifest things that are only beneficial for themselves. To some, that’s surprising for a generation that professes to have a strong interest in social justice. On Reddit, one user asks why we can’t manifest world peace or the end of disease. “It’s that way because YOU choose to believe that is the case, so your world reflects that about you,” a user retorts. “If you did not believe diseases existed anymore, your reality would begin to change and those around you would morph too. The only thing needed to change is yourself.”
Rosenkranz himself has noticed this shift during the TikTok resurgence of manifestation. “The themes of spirituality and religion are usually ‘how can I become a better person’ or ‘how can I help other people or get closer to God or the universe’, but that’s not as articulated with [this kind of] manifestation,” he says.
Some manifesters – like the reality shifters and quantum jumpers – believe you can quite literally move into a new existence or dimension. Others, like Gregan and her mentees, take more of a “be the change you want to see in the world” approach. “Obviously, we can't sit there and manifest that the war [in Ukraine] is going to stop or that humanity is gonna suddenly become peaceful. But as a spiritual person, you think, what can I do that's going to help?” she explains. “As an individual you can create peace and raise that collective energy by doing what you can to make somebody else's day better. When you do that, that is like a ripple effect is going to continue.”
Valenza echoes a similar sentiment: “Once we do our inner work, it really does help the collective to shift that way.”
If you’re a sceptic, it’s easy to despair at all these videos instructing people in the art of personal gain. But Dr Patrick Rosenkranz says manifestation might not be as self-involved as it seems: “From what I’ve seen, there’s a focus on deserving material wealth, although there is a focus on gratitude, too,” he notes. “That might be a starting point for focusing on something that’s bigger than oneself.”