Is being superstitious good for you?
Walking under a ladder, being careful not to break your mirror (or you'll suffer seven years of bad luck), panicking if a black cat crosses your path, throwing salt over your left shoulder after you spill some - there are loads of everyday superstitions that many of us believe in. In fact, Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire's psychology department carried out a UK Superstition Survey (1) and discovered that levels of superstitious belief were high across the country.
If you're superstitious, you're more likely to crave control and worry about events in your life. Touching wood to prevent something happening is the most common UK superstition, whilst crossing your fingers and avoiding walking under ladders are also popular. If you're Scottish, you're more likely to be superstitious than English, Welsh or Irish people (Irish people are the least superstitious!)
77% of people surveyed were 'at least a little superstitious', whilst 42% claimed they were 'very superstitious' (insert bad Stevie Wonder joke here). So it seems that believing in an event's significance without a rational explanation is all too common here in the UK, so we wondered, is being superstitious good for your health?
What is superstition?
Superstition is defined as 'an irrational belief in supernatural influences'. We're not talking about ghosts stealing your cornflakes, but about ingrained beliefs and behaviours that are often passed down through generations. You might think that 13 is an unlucky number, or that hearing an owl's cry means death is on its way. Different countries have different superstitions – for example, the Chinese believe that weddings should never be held on a date with the number four in it, as it sounds too much like the Chinese word for 'death.'
Whatever you believe, this type of magical thinking could actually be the product of evolution (2). Or it could stem from a need to control life – the less control you have over your life, the more likely you are to be superstitious, and whilst people who are religious are generally more superstitious, you don't have to be religious to have superstitious beliefs.
The health benefits
But is being superstitious actually doing your health any good? Well, for one, it can help you to feel more powerful and in control – it could even boost your confidence and self-esteem. A study carried out in July 2010 revealed that believing in a 'lucky' object actually enhanced performance levels and confidence (3). Believing in something an also help you to cope with stress or anxiety at difficult times in your life.
It's all about balance
As with all things, striking a balance between being superstitious and getting on with your life is the key; don't let superstitious beliefs rule your life, as this could quickly spiral into obsessive compulsive behaviour if not kept in check. What do we mean? Well, wearing your lucky pants for a week might make you feel more confident, but it isn't great for your health (or the way you smell). In fact, there are researchers who believe that superstitious thoughts and actions can be one of the first symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), where you have repeated unwanted thoughts and behaviours – such as having to check you've locked the door six times.
Don't let superstitious thoughts overtake your daily life and cause anxiety – there's nothing wrong with touching wood or throwing salt over your left shoulder (provided you check behind you) now and again, but everything in moderation.
It seems like being superstitious can be good for your health – it can help you to feel more in control and enhance your confidence. But superstitious behaviour that interferes with your day-to-day life could become a problem. If you're superstitious, you're not alone – so next time you cross the road to avoid a black cat, just make sure you look out for cars!
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