Urban Dictionary defines magical thinking as “the belief that one exerts more influence over events than one actually has.” Wikipedia likens it to superstitious thinking.
I was recently introduced to this concept in a casual conversation with a friend. I’d never heard of it before and it piqued my interest, so I began doing some research. Evidently, it can also be a sign of mental illness. Who knew?
The more I learned about the concept of magical thinking, the less I thought of it. I read dozens of stories, mainly written by psychiatrists about their patients, and in its most simplistic sense, I boiled the concept down to one sentence: Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. To borrow an expression from one of my favorite fictional characters, Sheldon Cooper, Ph.D., magical thinking is “pure hokum.” I’ll even go out on a limb and assert that magical thinking can be downright dangerous.
Why dangerous? Well, if you base your magical thinking on the premise that because it’s what you’ve either read about or always believed so it must be true, then I’d suggest you go looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Just watch out for lightning. If magical thinking suits you because you really, really want to believe it, then by all means, continue spending your hard-earned money on lottery tickets because you know for sure that someday you’re going to win the mega-millions. Just keep an eye on your bank balance. Belief in conspiracy theories is another extremely dangerous example of magical thinking. If you think the recent national election was rigged despite dozens and dozens of repudiations by state courts, federal courts, and even the U.S. Supreme Court, then here’s a top hat. Go ahead and pull a rabbit out of it. And if you think that COVID is a hoax (another dangerous example of magical thinking), and you believe that enforcing the wearing of masks in public places is an infringement of your human rights, then please stay far away from me.
On the other hand, visualization is a form of magical thinking that is neither dangerous nor productive. I’ve been visualizing a little white Mercedes-Benz in my garage for months. Is it there? Nope, not yet. However, I believe that sometime this year, that cute little car is going to adopt me. Hopefully, what I’m visualizing will manifest, not because of the magical thinking involved, but because I’ve set a goal and I’m working hard to achieve it. If it doesn’t happen, then it wasn’t meant to be. No harm, no foul.
And yet, magical thinking has its benefits. Specifically, it can have a lot to do with faith, and that might be a very good thing. Faith in God, faith in others, and faith in ourselves — each is healthy. The definition of faith is personal and unique, as are we.
Conviction in our own beliefs can ultimately determine our own happiness. I think that’s kind of magical.