Lucky Star

lucky starHumans are a superstitious lot. There’s the gambler who believes she’s got a ‘hot hand’. The Italian family who eat gnocchi on the 29th of every month to attract money. The Latina who wears a pair of yellow knickers on New Year’s Eve to attract good fortune in the coming year. Every culture has its own charming delusions about how to bring more money into their lives.Hard-boiled, rational sorts, skip the gnocchi and the knickers all together and go straight to insider-trading.

Despite lip service on the many splendored blessings of living a modest, simple life, funny that no one has come up with charms for repelling money.

But are superstitions silly? Maybe they actually work.

A recent study looked at what people do to reverse the perception of bad luck. In all situations if someone thinks she’s jinxed herself, (for example, boasting that her driving record is accident-free), she will perform some kind of avoidant action. She will literally try to push the bad luck away. Hence, avoiding bad luck usually entails throwing salt over your shoulder, knocking on wood, or spitting.

The other side of the coin, so to speak, is performing actions that we believe will draw luck to us. These usually involve drawing something toward us. We eat something (e.g. lentils, gnocchi, grapes, poppyseed…), hold something, (e.g. silver coins), or put something on, (e.g. yellow knickers, certain gemstones and amulets etc.).

Will eating a plate of gnocchi with cash slipped under the plate make us an Agnelli-sized fortune? Probably not. But, chances are, it does work, just in smaller ways.

One of the 14 cognitive biases is called confirmation bias. Basically it’s a form of selective perception. For example, if you’ve been hankering for a gold Cartier Love bracelet, believing this is an iconic piece, then suddenly you’re going see them everywhere. Same goes for your favorite car model.

Now, what if you perform some propitious act: You put on a pair of yellow knickers, cook up a pot of gnocchi and follow with 12 grapes for dessert?

If you believe these actions are making you irresistible to Lady Luck, that’ll trigger your confirmation bias. So, now, when you run for the bus and the driver actually stops, you’ll attribute it to your actions. You’ll pay closer attention when your stock portfolio goes up. You find a quarter in the street. Gradually you’ll begin to perceive yourself as ‘lucky’.

And because everyone loves a winner, this newfound self-perception could actually make you ‘luckier’, giving you the confidence to take risks by expecting positive outcomes.

That’s the virtuous circle of positive superstitions.

(And homemade gnocchi is surprisingly easy to make.)

Salute and bona fortuna.


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