The surprising psychology of talismans.
I wanted a teeny tiny bucket to carry around with me that would serve no other purpose than to remind me to chuck every “fuck it” aside and carry on with my life. I knew people would get a kick out of them, but what I didn’t anticipate was the psychological boost that everyone, not just me, seems to be getting.
A Bucket Full of Motivation
Not long ago, I created a bucket.....
Just ¾" tall and ½" wide, the bucked emerged after years of being delighted by the phrase, “Sometimes you have to chuck it in the fuck it bucket and move on.”
The metal caster had minimums, so even though I only intended to create a bucket for myself, I wound up with 100. Without much motivation to deal with the overflow, I stored the extras away and wore the very first bucket around my neck for a year before telling anyone what it was.
It came with me to social events I didn’t want to attend and to appointments that dragged on for hours. I rolled it through my fingers when people so rudely played videos on their phones without using headphones or when someone in my family went on yet another political rant.
I clutched it tight at the airport, back when flying standby was a regular part of my life. I never knew if I’d get a seat or have to spend the night in the terminal. With the bucket around my neck, it didn’t matter much either way. Because fuck it, I’d get there eventually. Whatever man.
On March 6 of this year, I slipped my bucket around my head yet again and went to the airport. I split my time between my hometown in Nevada and Vancouver—hence the standby—but this time, I had a real flight. With coronavirus restrictions starting to shutter things down, I wanted to make sure I got to Vancouver without issue. I arrived, and then the wrath of 2020 hit.
I wore the bucket around the apartment, while waiting in line to enter the grocery store, and on long apocalyptic walks. I got angry and squeezed it tight, willing all of my rage to pour into the square inch of metal. And on the days when I didn’t wear it, I put it in plain sight in the bathroom. Every time ass hit porcelain, I was reminded: chuck it in the fuck it bucket and move on.
I got around to selling the extra buckets when the election debates kicked off in September. I sold out in less than a week, and used the profits to make gold, silver, rose gold, and copper buckets. A Fuckit Bucket™ for every style of fuckit, I figured.
I knew people would get a kick out of them, but what I didn’t anticipate was the psychological boost that everyone, not just me, seems to be getting. One person told me that she hangs her bucket from the rear view mirror of her car, because it helps her to calm her road rage.
Another woman messaged my bucket Instagram account the day she received hers and said, “Yesterday was really the best day to get it. There was a lot of strife at our house because my kid woke my husband up at 5:30, and it went to shit from there.” A few weeks later, she messaged me again....“Just found out my friend’s husband is cheating on her. I’m going to need another one.”
I’ve received messages from Biden supporters living in Trump country and Trump supporters living in blue land. The message is the same: “This thing helps.”
The Science Behind Lucky Charms
Two reasons, according to science. Talismans have a way of giving us the illusion of control. As reported to the New York Times back in 2014, Jane Risen, professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said “We like to be able to predict and control our environments, and even an illusory sense of predictability is better than not having any.”
The reason? Belief. Whether superstition or physical amulet, pure belief in the symbol or ritual boosts confidence and therefore raises the likelihood of successfully accomplishing a task. Believing we can do something gives us a sense of control over the situation, even if the reality is that we don’t have any control at all. Like waiting in traffic. Or for a standby flight. Or in the middle of a global pandemic.
But yesterday, in the middle of a torrential downpour, I reached into my pocket and grasped at nothing. I’d left my keys in the apartment. I backed out onto the street and looked through our window. My partner Justin was chatting away, lecturing his University students over Zoom. Even if I buzzed, he wouldn’t be able to get up to let me in.
And so I slumped back to the entrance, slid down the wall of the building, and sat. Someone would have to come eventually. And they did. But while I waited, I thought about the shiny little bucket dangling from my keys. If I’d had it with me, I would have rolled it through my fingers and let it take all my frustrations. Instead, I thought about what it meant and where it came from.