Who Knew? Lucky Charms Actually Work.

Assay: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about superstition.

Superstition is the irrational belief that an object or behavior has the power to influence an outcome, when there’s no logical connection between them.

Most of us aren’t superstitious—but most of us are a littlestitious.

Relying on lucky charms is superstitious, but in fact, it actually works. Researchers have found that people who believe they have luck on their side feel greater “self-efficacy”—the belief that we’re capable of doing what we set out to do—and this belief actually boosts mental and physical performance. Many elite athletes, for instance, are deeply superstitious, and in one study, people who were told that a golf ball “has turned out to be a lucky ball” did  better putting than people who weren’t told that.

Any discussion of superstition reminds me of a perhaps-apocryphal story that I love, about physicist Niels Bohr. Bohr noticed that a friend had a horseshoe mailed above the door, and he asked why. When told that it brought luck, he asked in astonishment, “Do you really believe in this?” His friend replied, “Oh, I don’t believe in it. But I am told it works even if you don’t believe in it.” (You can watch me tell the story in this video.)

To help herself quit drinking, a friend told me, she explicitly invoked the idea of luck. “I told myself, ‘The lucky parts of my life have been when I wasn’t drinking, so I need to stop drinking to get my luck back.’”

How about you? Do you have a lucky object, lucky ritual, or lucky item that you wear? I have a lucky perfume. I love beautiful smells, but I save one of my favorite perfumes to wear only when I feel like I need some extra luck.

If you’re reading this post through the daily email, click here to join the conversation. And if you’d like to get the daily blog post by email, sign up here.

  • My personal lucky charm isn’t normally limited to a single object. What I usually do before a presentation is pick a lucky charm from my pocket. Okay, Quarter, today if I am touching you then you are giving me presentation powers! It’s silly, but it works so well!

  • peninith1

    When I was in grade school, one of my favorite stories was the Golden Book about Dumbo the ‘flying elephant’ who believed his lucky feather was essential to his performance in the circus. In the story, he learned to do his amazing feat without the feather.

    But as you observe, that lucky item was the boost he needed to get started in the first place. The story seems to well-illustrate that it’s very helpful to have a talisman to get you started, but in the end it’s inevitable that you’ll have to push through and give your best without it. That’s the stuff of many a legend and the stuff of life!

    To me, these little lucky charms we add to our lives are harmless forms of magical thinking and signs that we are willing to see ourselves as the heroes and heroines of our own story. They’re just fine as long as we are not paralyzed without them.

  • KT

    Personally, I’m a big believer in the placebo effect. There definitely seems to be something to the idea that perceiving that you have a slight advantage in something actually has an effect on your behavior and outcomes. I wouldn’t call myself superstitious, but there’s a mental aspect to being “lucky” that seems logical to me. However, I don’t believe in physical lucky charms anymore.

    When I was younger I always tried to keep some sort of lucky charm with me. I had a lucky bracelet for a while, and then a lucky keychain, and even a pair of lucky socks once. However, my problem was I could never seem to hold on to my lucky charms! The keychain got lost in a couch cushion somewhere and the socks eventually had to be thrown away after I had worn holes in them. They just weren’t permanent or reliable enough for me.

    Nowadays, I prefer to have a lucky routine or a lucky habit instead. For example, before important track meets I always do the same regimen of stretches and warm ups to put myself in the right mindset. Part of the benefit to this might just be the familiarity, but it also truly makes me feel luckier, and I think this has a noticeable effect on my performance.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, I’m fascinated by the placebo effect! So powerful, so mysterious.

      • Christy King

        My favorite placebo story is the fake knee surgery. Have you read about that one?

  • Mag

    I definitely agree with this! It’s all about how you think about something. I think that lucky charms work the same way as comfort items. For example, last night, the blanket I’ve had since I was born (I’m still a high school student) got thrown in the wash. I went to bed late, and the whole house was dark, so I couldn’t go to the laundry room and find it. I usually fall asleep once my head hits the pillow, but last night I tossed and turned for I don’t even know how long. I wasn’t thinking about my blankey, but I couldn’t fall asleep. Just the fact that I couldn’t feel it there with me affected me, and in that way lucky charms and comfort items go hand in hand.

  • Sofia

    This whole theory of lucky charms ad people believing in objects to do inanimate things reminds me of a book I read called The Secret (. The book starts by convincing the reader that the cosmos have an incredible power that has the ability to make true anything that an individual would repeat three times in their head each morning. The book continued with the argument that when the individual becomes connected enough to the cosmos, even a positive thought could result in a positive day.

    Towards the end of the book (which is supposed to be a month long process), the author reveals that the entire time it was a psychological phenomenon, similar to that of a placebo, that actually makes a thought come to life.

    However, unlike the idea suggested in the blog, the same effect can be achieved purely mentally, without the use of a physical object. This goes to show the truth and the extent of the power of the human mind to execute the placebo effect.


    I agree, i think its just the believe and faith we develop, something good happens and we are able to directly connect with our lucky charm and even though i don’t believe in superstition, i still follow it, as it just gives me the much required confidence. I guess this is all it matters to me.

  • Haha that Niels Bohr story has always been a favorite. I’m definitely superstitious with items and rituals, mostly to put my mind at ease, to know I did everything possible. Whatever works!

  • Andi Montgomery

    I have a few different small silver necklaces from different people and different times in my life. Although I don’t believe they have inherent lucky power, wearing them reminds me of the person or circumstance that was important to me. For instance, when I am working on trying something new or being a leader, I wear the charm from the camp where I went from being a young camper to learning about horses and teaching young girls about riding as a counselor. When I travel I wear the small heart that a friend’s mother gave me after I was t-boned by a semi in my car, but came away with only bruises.

    I tend to fidget with my jewelry, and, then, when I fidget I’m reminded that I am safe, competent, loved, or spiritually prepared. So, although I tend to think of them as lucky charms, their value isn’t in their luck, but that they bring out something that is already a part of me.

  • Lucky charms are just a cereal, but I do believe in the power of the mind. There are plenty of examples of the mind trumping the body. Interesting article, though!

  • Christy King

    Just don’t have a lucky charm you might lose or break! I was so sad when I dropped my “lucky” black jade pendant and it broke. It’s bad enough to break something you really like, but when it’s lucky too….

    Since then I’ve not become nearly as attached to lucky things. Instead I look for things to see as “signs” for luck. No breakage!

  • Elise

    Lucky charms and superstision are just another way to show that we all have hope and faith and truly believe in something at play bigger than ourselves. What I always try to do if I have a question or I am indecisive about something is ask for a sign from the universe, not dissimilar to lucky charms or someones superstitions. Read more about it at my Happiness Website http://elisebradfield.com/?p=850

  • ellavanw

    I have a lucky dress that I wear to important oral arguments. Wearing it serves as a reminder that everything I know will not actually fall out of my head when I stand up to speak! (I have now bought it in triplicate, overbuyer that I am.)

  • Kelly Daugherty

    I believe luck happens in threes. I won two items in a raffle this weekend. Waiting for the third lucky hi-top to drop. Will let you know.

  • Love this article 🙂 Since everything around us is energy, I do believe all objects are loaded with a specific kind of energy, so some may affect you in a good way, and others not. The faith one puts into an object reinforces this, and this is the reason lucky charms do work! We should always remember, though, that this energy comes from one source, and we don’t need a lucky charm in order to attract luck in our life. The lucky charm is just a tool, a symbol, while all the power lies within 🙂

  • Kim

    I have lucky times. If I happen to glance at the clock when the numbers are sequential, such as 12:34 or 1:23, I feel that is lucky. And, it the numbers repeat, like, 10:10 or 11:11, that is lucky too. But it has to happen by chance. It’s not lucky if I sit there and look at them.

  • i am having a lucky day if it is cloudy and / or raining. The entire autumn and winter season are lucky 🙂