For the New Year ahead lets stay positive and smile through the bad times. It may be that the tough times are insuring that we’ll have even better luck in the future!
I’ve recently experienced both sad news and a patch of really bad luck. I’ll spare readers the gory details, but it’s got me thinking – is it true what they say that trouble, or bad luck, comes in threes? There’s a surprising amount of material written about the subject. Most maintain that things don’t actually happen in threes, because luck and probability don’t work that way. It’s just an old wives’ tale they say, like broken mirrors mean 7 years bad luck. If we’re expecting trouble to come in threes then we’ll look for something to fit with that line of thought. It’s a bias that’s built into our brain. We like to see things that conform to our idea of how something works.
Bill Hitchens, in his book, ‘Logical and Critical Thinking’, explains it this way; life presents a never ending list of things happening. They can be seen as good or bad depending on how we feel. The problems are always happening, they don’t change, it’s just how we see them that changes.
If we’re in a good mood and something breaks, we just replace it or get it fixed. Ah what the hell, I thought that was going to break anyway. If the same thing breaks, but you’re expecting something bad to happen, it becomes one of the three bad things that’s happened. That’ll confirm the three things happening rule you were expecting to see.
If something else happens we’ll change it so that it’s the new third thing. Or we’ll think it’s the first in a new set of three! We won’t change the rule, we could if we wanted, but instead the rule stays the same and we’ll adjust what happened to fit in with the rule.
John Allen Paulos, a professor of mathematics at Temple University, refers to this as triaphilia, a strong tendency in many areas of life that we humans like to have things in three. Why? One reason might be a sort of number mysticism. Three is the first odd prime number, the triangle is a stable shape, in our base 10 system, the fraction 1/3 is .3333333….
A second more compelling reason might be psychological, perhaps deriving from the structure and limited complexity of our brains.
The appeal of the trinity in Christianity and other religions, the philosophical triad of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, and even the setup of many jokes seem to stem in part from a natural resonance with the number three. (A priest, a minister and a rabbi go into a bar and …, or a physicist, an engineer and a mathematician are asked how to ….)
Michael Eck’s web page, ‘The Book of Threes’, is replete with countless examples of the ubiquity of threeness.
A related third reason might be the fact that people are naturally pattern-seeking, and searching for and labeling triads, even if pointless, can give people a sense of control. Some argue that troubles never come singly. Like the other sayings “it never rains but it pours” or “it’s either feast or famine”, troubles don’t come evenly spaced but clustered together in a run of bad luck. It doesn’t mean precisely three. It could be dozens of problems. But as human beings we are wired to recognize patterns in random data even when there aren’t any.
Other say that good luck and bad luck are just that – luck – and according to the law of averages they should be evenly occurring throughout our lives.
It’s all about the belief system; if you think you are the unfair recipient of misfortune you’ll firmly hold this mindset and will therefore view everything through this prism. “Bad luck” can often cause sensitivity to more “bad luck” which will be recognized when otherwise would be ignored. Be careful you don’t end up in a vicious circle! Even if it seems as though the whole universe is conspiring against you, don’t think it! Your suspicions will turn into convictions and become self-fulfilling prophecies.
So, bad luck doesn’t come in threes. It’s just our imagination. That’s it, isn’t it?
Yes, well, maybe. Maybe you’re getting all this bad luck now because you can handle it. In his classic book ‘The Road Less Traveled’, M Scott Peck recounts that in his professional career as a psychiatrist he came across people that were seeking his help who had witnessed terrible events and had been subjected to terrible and prolonged abuse. What surprised him again and again throughout his career was that the patients were in a better shape psychologically than he would have expected considering what they’d been through.
Peck marvels on the resilience of the human spirit to cope with life’s great challenges.
And this could be taken further. The yin and yang of the universe means there is good and bad in our lives, I think we all accept that. But if you had a choice of how you’d like the good and bad to come at you, how would you like it to arrive? Bad and good in equal measure throughout your life? That may be your first choice. But would that really be the best thing? Would life become a predictable dirge of frequently space out bits of rubbish?
Wouldn’t it be better to get the bad times over with quickly?
When you’re down you’re down, another bit of bad news doesn’t really register. It may not seem nice but all these bad things happening at the same time are good because you can handle them. One bad thing is enough to take up all your crisis-handling reserves – a couple more crises won’t even register.
The point is that bad luck can come in threes, fours, fives and sixes. It doesn’t matter. We can handle more bad luck during those challenging moments.
So, for this New Year ahead lets stay positive and smile through the bad times. It may be that they’re insuring that we’ll have even better luck ahead!
Article written by Suzanne Watkinson, Managing Director of Ambiente Properties Ltd, for the Macau Closer arts and life-style magazine