There’s a big secret out there–“The Secret“–waiting to be discovered by all of us who want a better, easier life.

Rhonda Byrne, an Australian filmmaker, has repackaged the ancient philosophy of the “law of attraction” and the power of positive thinking into a mysterious, enticing product for anyone stuck with a hardship (i.e. humanity).

She appeared on “Oprah” this month to discuss “The Secret,” a 90-minute film combining cinematic imagery and sit-down interviews with several writers, philosophers, and scientists, that can be viewed through online streaming video, or purchased as a DVD. Since last April’s release, “The Secret” has sold more than a half a million DVDs and more than 100,000 online views.

The law of attraction goes like this: when you think good thoughts, good things happen, and when you think bad thoughts, bad things happen. (That’s my preschool version.) A person’s thoughts and mental images are like magnets, bringing her either success (for positive thoughts) or failure and misery (for negative thoughts). According to Byrne and similar thinkers, every one of us can determine the quality of her life with her thoughts.

This philosophy has always been a tough sell for me because I’m so practical in nature (if you do a, b, and c, you get d) and because I watched my father sweat his way to prosperity (as a manufacturer’s sales rep. in the automobile industry). For him, nothing dictated success more than perseverance. And he ingrained that conviction in his four daughters.

However, I definitely find some truth in the law of attraction (and quantum physics), especially in explaining how so many coincidences–like hearing from a friend right as you were thinking about her–happen in our lives. And positive thinking surely beats a “victim” approach to life: a woe-is-me, the-world-has-wronged-me type of mentality that I have, no doubt, adopted at times.

Here’s my take: there is smart visualization and lazy visualization.

Take my (somewhat shallow) dream of appearing on “Oprah” (as an author, not as a lady who has no sense of style and desperately needs a makeover, say her husband and best friends). A friend of mine (who eats, breathes, showers, and pees by the law of attraction) once told me if I wanted to be on “Oprah,” all I had to do was visualize myself on Oprah. I could do it from the couch eating a box of Thin Mints.

So for about a year, whenever I thought about it, I pictured myself in my favorite blue blouse (without the breast-milk stains) and shiny black pants shaking the hand of this media queen.

“I’m so glad you liked my book, Oprah.” I said. “And of course I’ll let you know when the next one’s released.” We giggled and chatted. And the crowds went crazy. So did my book sales. Which meant a hardy advance for the next book I was going to write poolside in the Bahamas with the help of a full-time nanny.

In that year, plenty of telemarketers called. But no producers from Harpo Productions (Oprah’s company). Or if they did call, they didn’t leave a message. (How rude.)

“If you want to be on ‘Oprah,'” Eric said, “I suggest you get off your butt and write a juicy book (that isn’t too Catholic).”

Now there’s a smart guy.

“Analyze the books she has on her show. Write one. Keep on calling the producers until you speak to someone with a pulse. Then use those savvy sales skills your dad taught you, and work your magic.”

Bingo. Three steps to my dream: write the book, talk to a producer, and charm her.

Come to think of it, that’s exactly what my dad did to accomplish his dream: to become a buddy of Frank’s (Sinatra). Or at least to be on a first-name basis with him.

Any visualization my father did, I suspect, was done on the golf course a minute before he teed off (and then again on the putting green). I don’t know, maybe he did fantasize, while drinking his nightly martinis, about his evening with Frank: the two of them smoking expensive Cuban cigars on one of those designer yachts featured on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” (his favorite show).

But he didn’t stay there for too long. Because he had too much homework to do.

Step one. He researched which charities Frank supported.

Step two: He donated oodles of cash to the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center.

Step three. He became a good enough golfer to compete in the Frank Sinatra Golf Invitational (in Palm Springs, California).

Step four. He won it. Plus an evening with Frank and Barbara.

Step five. Dazzling Frank with his smart wit and charisma, he arranged a few more meetings with him.

Dream accomplished: At my dad’s funeral, friends and relatives crowded around one bouquet. On the card was written: “Our sincere condolences, Frank and Barbara.” No last name.

Ok, back to my Oprah dream.

To say that all I have to do is imagine myself in a blouse free of breast-milk stains on Oprah’s set is lazy visualization. Because if that were true, I could run my whole life from the couch: visualizing my tax returns filed, the dishwasher emptied, our laundry folded, and Katherine’s diaper filled with daisies.

This chemically-imbalanced (and possibly cell-damaged) brain thinks mental pictures are useless without hard work and steps of action to support them. I don’t buy the simplistic way to happiness–via one good thought after another, with a nice image thrown in. There’s too much war and famine and rape and suffering in the world to wrap my arms around that secret, magical gateway.

Maybe this is my dad’s doing, but I’d have to agree with Colin Powell, who once wrote, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

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