The Real Secret is a different kind of self help. We debunk the empty promises of so many books and DVDs and bring you a simple, sensible approach to real life fulfillment. We don't believe you can achieve happiness, or anything else, by simply wishing for, thinking about or visualising it. Our book - and this blog - takes only the best of what really works and turns it into a positive, practical 12-step programme that will enable you to take control of your life and raise your happiness levels.

* Learn Happiness Habits from Positive Psychology * Tame your Fear with Cutting Edge Neuroscience * Control your Time and Money like an Entrepreneur * Build Better Relationships through one Tested Technique

The Real Secret is simple, sensible, scientifically supported self help
by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw



For those of you who have stumbled across this blog thinking that you’ll get some insight into The Law of Attraction as understood by Rhonda Byrne in her book The Secret - please look away now. I have no wish to offend although I’m happy to do so in this case.

The Secret by Rhonda Bryne is filled with pseudo-scientific nonsense; there is no secret. The book was presumably written to make money but it ended up being a sinister hoax that millions fell for.

For those who haven’t been taken in by this pernicious hoax, my intention here is not to waste your time in discussing The Secret or Rhonda Byrne any further (although you may be interested in why so many people fell for and are still falling for the deceit that underpins that book - in which case please see my earlier post which looks at the Social Psychology behind such acceptance, which you can read here. It’ll make you feel good about yourself  so worth a read if only for that).

This post is about The real laws of attraction - the laws of attraction that underpin our most important relationships. How do we make friends? How do we find a lover? How do we decide whether that lover/friend has the makings of a partner for life? How come some of us are more successful than others at finding and making friends/lovers/partners? What do they know that you don’t? Please let's not believe there is some kind of secret to this. Millions do it very successfully.

What I want to do here is examine what we actually do when we are successful at finding friends/lovers/partners. So, if lasting relationships are what you are looking for then this is for you. It’s based on good honest research conducted with ordinary people, just like you and me: no deceit, no pretence - just straightforward, open-to-criticism research.

There are four Laws of Attraction identified by research - but before we get onto them I need to cover a little background first. If you are desperate you can always skip to the laws - but just to warn you that if you do so it’ll only reinforce one of the points I make later about neediness, so best stay with me for the moment. It’s good practice.

Background to Research on Relationships
Happiness is the new buzz. There are books and blogs and new research projects springing up everywhere you look. In the research world - at least in that tiny portion of it devoted to the understanding of happiness - the talk is all about how to define happiness so that we can all be sure we are talking about the same thing; because then we can measure it and test for it and look at how it develops or doesn’t develop and so on and so on. Very exciting. If you like that kind of thing.

Unfortunately researchers are still far from an agreed definition of happiness and some even snigger at the quest. I don’t snigger - I want to know everything I can about the state of happiness, if only because I don’t much like the state of being unhappy. For those who are taking anti-depressive medication the question is even more important.

But there is one aspect in the research on happiness about which all are agreed - the stronger our relationships the happier we will be. The quality of our close relationships are understood to be key - influencing our physical as well as our mental well-being. So If you want to be a little happier then you need to foster good relationships. However, finding friends/lovers/partners with whom we can begin to be happy/happier is easier said than done. Luckily there are a few rules that could help  - lets call them The Laws of Attraction.

The Four Laws of Attraction

Proximity - the single most important factor that determines who we will come to know, befriend, and possibly love is proximity. Accidental proximity is called propinquity, literally "the coincidence of being near."

The two most famous studies documenting the relationship between proximity and attraction were conducted in college dormitories. Because most students who live in dormitories have not known each other previously, a dormitory provides a good setting to study how close relationships develop. In one study the dormitories were built in a U-shape around a central court covered with grass. The exterior sides of the building faced the street; the central section faced the inner courtyard.

Two factors appeared to exercise the greatest influence on personal relationships: the location of the apartments and the distances between them. The most important factor in determining who would be emotionally close to whom was the distance between their apartments. The closer people lived to each other, the more likely they were to become friends. Next door neighbours were far more likely to become friends with each other than with people who lived in adjacent buildings.

In fact, it was difficult to find close friendship between people who lived more than five apartments away from each other. In more than two thirds of the cases, close friendships were between next door neighbours.

In addition, the location of some of the apartments created more opportunities for their residents. Those residents who lived near the staircase or mailboxes met more of their fellow residents and met them more often. The frequent encounters increased the chances that these well located people would talk to others and get to know them, form friendships and increase their own popularity.

On the other hand, people who lived in apartments that faced the street had no next door neighbours. As a result these residents made half the number of friends made by those who lived facing the inner court.

Further studies demonstrated that as the geographic distance separating potential couples decreases, the probability of their marrying each other increases. In one of these studies, 431 couples who applied for marriage licences were interviewed. It turned out that 54% of the couples were separated by a distance of 16 blocks or fewer when they first went out together, and 37% were separated by a distance of five blocks or fewer. The number of marriages decreased as the distance increased between the couples’ places of residence.

What we see with the law of proximity is of course the familiarity effect or the mere exposure effect; this is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them.  In studies of interpersonal attraction, the more often a person is seen by someone, the more pleasing and likeable that person appears to be. 

Seeing a lot of someone gives you the chance to get to know them a little more and to build a relationship. Just think of your postman - after a while you feel as if you’ve known him for years even though you never really had more than a few words to exchange at each meeting, so that when you bump into him at the local pub you feel comfortable enough to start a conversation and get to know him a little better. You find out he’s happily married. 

So what can we conclude from this? A fair amount really. It means that if you want to make more friends then it really does matter where you position yourself in relation to other people. So you might want to move where you live if your current abode is isolating you from your neighbours. Forget "detached"; you want crowded. And choose the flat by the stairs/lifts/postboxes. And you need to be seen often - so moving from one part of town to another is perhaps not so wise; best to stay in one area and get your face known. Go to the same pub. Take coffee in the same coffee shop. Buy your food from local shops. Make sure you get to know  your neighbours - that means knocking on their door and asking to borrow some sugar. Hang about and become familiar. Your next best friend/lover/soul mate is probably just living down the corridor or across the road from you. So no need to travel the world looking for your ideal mate - they aren’t there, they’re right here under your nose.

Similarity -  is also a very powerful factor in accounting for friendships. In the studies mentioned above, room mates selected as being similar were much more likely to end up being friends. Another piece of research showed the same thing in paper-and-pencil fashion. Here subjects were given a description of another person and asked how much they thought they would like the person described on the paper. The more closely the "other person" resembled the subject, the more the subject expected to like the other person.

As a general rule the same factors that apply to the law of proximity affect the law of similarity - that is, we tend to gravitate to the familiar. We are more often attracted to people who are similar to us in intelligence, background, beliefs, looks and social class.

Difference is exciting but it can also be a little scary. Finding someone who shares similar experiences and understandings to you, on the other hand, can be exciting in a different way because it is self-affirming; you like the person even more because they are a bit like you! How good is that? 

Personally I go for maximum difference - I want someone bigger, older, brighter, wealthier and kinder than I consider myself to be. But the truth of research is that in actual fact opposites don’t really attract. Happy relationships are typically built on what people have in common and not on their differences.

So what should we take from this? That when looking for a friend/lover/partner it’s best to stick to people who you estimate will share similar attributes. There is absolutely no point wasting your time on developing a relationship with someone whose outlook on life is fundamentally at odds with your own. You’re only asking for trouble ahead. Don’t even think about changing them. It’s been tried and it doesn’t work - people aren’t play-dough.

Now the chances are that you will be able to make that judgement quite soon after bumping into that person in the corridor. You can tell a lot about another person from the way they look apparently - which is the third law of attraction.

Physical Appearance - this is going to be awkward, but someone has to let you know, so it might just as well be me: you are fairly average looking. You know how you dream about living ever after with a Pamela Anderson/James Dean lookalike? Well it’s not going to happen. Sorry about that. Best to know.

It’s not personal; it’s just a fact that, as a rule, we tend to fair best with partners who are no more or no less attractive than we are. There are, of course, the odd exceptions - much older, ugly man marries beautiful starlet. Yes, exactly. You noticed the stress on odd.

Physical appearance is a huge attractant and there are some rules you should know about.

Men don’t actually want stick thin, model type figures - they don’t like overweight either. They like comfortable, apparently. That’s good. Neither are men attracted to women who are on a constant diet - makes them suspicious. Suspicious in case one day you stop the diet and go from a size 8 to 18 overnight. So get rid of the diet and celebrate your comfortable figure - it’s more attractive than you think.

Women like men to be taller than they are and if they do have to be overweight then let them make it up with personality and wit. Remember Robbie Coltrane from the TV series Cracker? Like him - otherwise overweight is frowned upon by women. Oh, and women want men to be solvent (the more the better) and have good employment prospects - so quite picky I’d say. The stereotypical view of men being attracted to looks and women to money is confirmed then.

When it comes to choosing a long term partner, men as well as women look for someone who is intelligent (but not too obviously so, so get rid of those studious looking spectacles and put away that book on Neitzsche); dependable is a big attractant (so always do what you say you will do - get rid of the unpredictable behaviour you aren’t a pop star); healthy (especially important if children are planned); kind and loving (to them, obviously). And finally, no-one but no-one likes people who are "needy". You know who you are. It's so unattractive.That’s about it really. 

In conclusion, it seems that women are less taken by physical attractiveness if everything else is in place, and men are quite capable of seeing beyond outward appearances - up to a point, you are still average looking remember. So when out strolling the corridors/streets/local precincts, best to keep your eyes off the seriously good-looking neighbours and concentrate rather on the plainer features. Looking for a same sex partner? The same rules apply. Sorry. Just when you thought things might be different.

Reciprocity -  is liking someone who likes you. Reciprocity was manipulated in a study where subjects "accidentally overheard" another subject, actually a confederate of the researcher, expressing liking or disliking of the subject. Then the subject was asked to fill out a questionnaire that expressed liking or disliking for the confederate. The questionnaire mirrored the overheard comments. A confederate who had made positive comments about the subject was liked; one who made bad comments was disliked. A third group heard the confederate start by making bad comments and end by making good comments. These subjects, who thought they had "won him over" gave the confederate the highest ratings of all.
It seems that we give back what we get, so if you want to make a friend quickly and easily then pretend you like them enormously. In return they will just love you to bits. Alternatively, behave as if the person likes you (even if you have no idea at all what they really think) and soon they will. Works a treat. How shallow are we - really.

But there is more to reciprocity. If we spend time with people who we know like us and in return we like them, then we bolster one another’s self-esteem. We gain and give personal validation and that is protective. And it makes us happier.

And finally, there is the Ben Franklin Effect. My all time favourite. This states that people like you more if they have done a favour for you than if you have done a favour for them.

“He that has once done you a kindness, will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged”

So don’t go bending backwards to do others favours. Ask for favours of them. And that's the real secret to making friends. Just like your mother always told you - go ask next door if we can borrow a cup of sugar.

So all in all it’s quite simple really. If you want to find friends/lovers/partners for life then you only need to hang about your street corner. What kids have always known. If you want a better class of friend/lover/partner then go hang out on their street corners. If you really want to meet rich older men fly first-class and ask for their help. Trust me. I have it on good authority.

If you want cutting edge advice on how to get rid of junk friends and more on how to make and keep friends and be a good friend then you’ll need our section on "Social Work" in The Real Secret - available in paperback and kindle on and

Posted by Annabel

No comments:

Post a Comment

^ Scroll to Top