Why Lucky Balls Are Better

So, March 17. St. Patrick. Chased the snakes away from Ireland. Or something. There’s chocolate cake involved (rumored to include mashed potatoes), so I don’t question the day too closely.

March 17 is also St. Gertrude’s Day, and SHE is the patron saint of cats. If you weren’t raised Catholic, patron saints can seem a little hinky. St. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes. St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things.  There’s a list, and you can shoehorn your situation onto it, using St. Jude, for example, as a saint to invoke in the case of a failing relationship or a car that won’t start on a frigid morning (I’ve done both). St. Jude must be a very busy guy.

One of the earliest “prayers” I learned was, “Dear St. Anthony, please come around. My glasses are lost, and cannot be found.” I still have the pair of glasses I’m rockin’ in the picture to the left. Seemed like St. Anthony took his “lost things” job seriously, because invariably, if I said the St. Anthony prayer, my specs would turn up.

But was the force at work St. Anthony, or something else? A bright soul by the name of Lysann Damisch from the University of Koln, Germany, decided to test the impact of a lucky charm on performance. She set up a putting challenge, and told half the golfers that they had been given “lucky balls.”

Stop snickering, this is science–German science, no less.  The golfers with lucky balls performed 35 percent better than the golfers with regular balls. She did another experiment, asking people to bring along their good luck charm when they worked on an anagram quiz. Again the people with the charm did much better on the test than those without a lucky charm. They also worked longer on the tough questions, had more confidence in their abilities, and assessed their skills as more impressive than the non-charmers did.

My mother believed in the power of St. Anthony, so when she sent me to hunt up my missing glasses, her expectations were that I would find them. The first couple of times that  “St. Anthony” came through for me proved that he was the right guy for the job, and thus my confidence and determination were elevated on subsequent quests.

Saints might well be intervening, but it’s also the case that magical thinking is enormously powerful. If you believe you sleep better with your special teddy bear, you will sleep better. If you think Friday the 13th is unlucky, it probably will be. And who knows. If you think St. Jude can bail out that failing relationship, he just might. Think of all the professional athletes with their goofy rituals. They made it to the pros with those rituals, while the rest of us washed out in the sandlot.

Were you raised with any “good luck” rituals? Do you have a good luck charm? Maybe you have other ways to boost confidence and inspire determination? To one commenter, I’ll send a one-pound box of Irish Potato candy.

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17 comments on “Why Lucky Balls Are Better

  1. I have a sister who loves to gamble. I do not. When we go to the casino together she expects to win. I expect to kiss my money goodbye and never see it again. She usually wins – I do not.

    I don’t have any lucky charms. But being Catholic, I have asked the saints to pray with me all my life. St. Anthony has always been one of my favorites. I could tell stories that even astound me. I don’t always get what I want when I pray, but most of the time, I at least get the grace to deal with that. Friends who aren’t Catholic don’t always understand this. All I can say is, it doesn’t hurt to have friends praying with you.

    By the way, Irish potato candy? What is that? Most of my ancestors were Irish, but I have never heard of potato candy.

    I have downloaded A ROGUE OF HER OWN. It’s next on my TBR list. Looking forward!

    • Irish potato candy is not Irish, though it is candy–mostly coconut with cinnamon dusting, and mashed potatoes for, I dunno, a few more calories? I’m familiar with it as a Pennsylvania product.
      I think our thoughts and intentions have weight, and that focusing your energies on, “Please help me,” or, “Where did I put my glasses,” or focusing a group of people’s energies in those directions will have results. Call it a patron saint, call it a law of the universe or serendipity, I’ve seen the results in my own life.

  2. Saint Anthony and Saint Jude were part of my family growing up. My husband misplaced aka lost his car keys somewhere between the garage and our kitchen when we were first married. I told him to say a prayer to Saint Anthony…..he looked at me like I was crazy! I said a prayer and we found the keys!

    I have a lucky leash for showing in conformation. A friend made it and I had lots of good luck showing my Irish with it. Greg likes to tug on the leash so it’s been put away.

    Fun post.. Have a good week.

    • OF COURSE you found the leash. St. Anthony never sleeps. I’ve worn glasses since before I was potty-trained and I;ve given dear St. Anthony a lot of business just hunting for my specs.

  3. I’m Presbyterian so I didn’t grow up with Saints doing things for me. 🙂 My hubby was raised Catholic (taught by Jesuits)so he has a few choice Saints he goes to when things get rough. Occasionally, he’ll invoke *Jesus, Mary and Joseph* when exasperated. I roll my eyes and move on.

    I come from a Show Biz family. We have a few things we do before we go on stage. And if I don’t do them, I tend to not have a good concert. My youngest son is a pianist. When he gives a recital, he has to have the score for what he’s playing, closed, on the piano. He doesn’t use it but it needs to be there. Go figure.

    I heard about St. Gertrude for the first time YESTERDAY! Made me smile. 🙂

    • A classmate of my daughter’s slid down a shale slope on a class hike coming rather forcifully to a stop straddling a small tree. “Holy Mary, Mother of God!” was what came out of his Lutheran educated mouth. And lucky balls, indeed.

      • I find the lucky balls experiment almost scary. How many of us have heard negative statements: This family will always have to struggle. You can’t fight city hall. Don’t expect too much from ….
        Just telling somebody their golf ball is lucky improves performance THIRTY-FIVE PERCENT?!!! Yikes. This is me, spreading optimism and good cheer in every direction.

  4. No I was never raised with a good luck charm ritual. I think I desperately need one with how my life is falling apart and being diagnosed with MS! Any suggestions?

    • Bonny, I am sorry you are being hit with the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Health problems are the most real problems I know of, and MS is a stinker of a diagnosis. I don’t have a lucky charm either, but when I was hitting one of my periodic lows, my sister suggested that I end the day focusing on something–anything–for which I could be honestly grateful. The ability to speak clearly enough to complain sometimes figured on that list. The ability to wipe my own behind made it on some really bad days (well… think about it). My family. They aren’t near, but they’d help out if I asked them to. You get the idea. I cast around until I could spot something for which I was genuinely, truly grateful, and I’d part from the day on that honestly grateful note.
      There’s also research that says if we journal about our troubles, they have less power over us. The idea is that if you take the time to think about, “Am I angry? Resentful? Frightened? WHAT exactly am I feeling and how do I describe it?” You take a step back, you become the narrator instead of the main character, and that has the effect of making you feel more in control and sorted out.
      But my go-to coping mechanism in times of trouble has always been books, particularly the upbeat romance genre.
      You will find your way through this. Maybe you will dance your way through it, read your way, cook your way, or knit your way. Whatever gives you joy and strength, I hope you can keep it handy and have lots of it. Hugs to you, and please email me at [email protected] if there’s something specific you can think of that I could do to help. A trouble shared is a trouble halved.

  5. No good luck charms or special prayers, but a quote, homily or aphorism for every situation, to the point they’ve reached into several generations.

    I learned about Saint Monica this winter, the patron saint of difficult marriages and disappointing children (Wikipedia), when I wondered why I didn’t know more people named Monica.

    • I wonder if she got both of those challenges because they tend to go hand in hand? A long time ago, I was told in a mediation training that girls act in (internalize, over-achieve), boys act out, when parents are deciding to dissolve the marriage. Both are attempts to bring Mom and Dad together, either through pride or despair.
      Poor Monica though. She has a tall order!

  6. No lucky charms here but being Catholic I’ve always prayed to the Saints for help. I’m always saying ” Something’s lost & can’t be found, St. Anthony please bring it round”. So far it’s never failed. But I only ask when I’m home..

    • Is St. Anthony a wonderful guy or what? When I started hanging out with Mennonites, I thought their attitude toward patron saints was positively ridiculous when as you say, IT WORKS.

  7. I Loved A ROGUE OF HER OWN!! Thank you, Grace!!

    Even though I was raised Mennonite and married a Catholic but never converted, I’ve said my fair share of prayers to St. Anthony and St. Jude. (My mother was very distressed when she heard me do so.) I figure I can use all the help I can get at times and asking the saints to put in a good word for me can only help.

    I don’t have any lucky charms as such, but I do feel completely lost if I take off my wedding ring or my great grandmother’s wedding ring (that I’ve been wearing daily for 34 years) and things do tend to go wrong those days. I attribute it to my state of mind when I’m not wearing my rings. Since lucky charms help people feel more confident, I guess the almost are mine.

    I’ve never heard of Irish Potato Candy so I clicked the link. Cinnamon covered coconut creme sounds interesting.

    • I was raised Catholic, became Mennonite, and married one. I kept my patron saints, thank you very much, and gave the shoo-fly pie a pass. The four-part congregational singing is terrific, as is the dessert table at the fellowship meals, but St. Anthony is a keeper.