The Benefits of Magical Thinking

Think Like a Magician to Survive and Thrive

Wishing on a star, carrying a good luck charm, performing a simple ritual, believing in karma, and finding meaning in events that others may view as meaningless are all examples of what psychologists label as “magical thinking.” While people who rely strongly on logic may view magical thinking as delusional, studies show that a lack of magical thinking can actually be more of a mental health concern.

Magical Thinking Helps Us Survive

Researchers have found that our brains are wired to find meaning in the world. Even without realizing it, a region in the left hemisphere of the brain activates to form hypotheses—possible reasons—as soon as we see or hear something incomprehensible. There is even a brain chemical assigned to the task of tagging experiences as meaningful, a neurotransmitter known as dopamine.

People who suffer from depression have less dopamine than those who are not depressed. Depressed people struggle to find any meaning in life. Similarly, researchers have also noted that people who do not employ any magical thinking suffer from “depressive realism” and a condition known as “anhedonia,” which means the inability to experience pleasure.

Magical thinking often kicks in when we are feeling helpless about a situation. By performing a superstitious ritual, making a wish, or otherwise assigning belief in a power outside of ourselves and the rational world, we get a feeling that maybe the outcome of the situation isn’t entirely out of our control. We then gain more confidence and suffer less anxiety—and that’s a good thing.

When Magical Thinking Is Not Healthy

While depressed people suffer from a lack of dopamine and magical thinking, people who are schizophrenic, on the other hand, have brains flooded with too much dopamine. They suffer from extreme delusion, finding bizarre meaning in situations that are actually mundane and operating on magical thinking mode all the time.

If magical thinking interferes with healthy functioning in the real world, then it’s time to see a therapist.

When Magical Thinking Is Encouraged

For most of us, magical thinking is an occasional mental mechanism that we willingly engage in and can easily switch out of when more logical behavior is needed. Magical thinking is even encouraged at times when a creative edge is beneficial. One neuropsychologist, Dr. Peter Brugger, of University Hospital Zurich, states that magical thinking is essential for creativity, because it allows us to see patterns and make associations that more rational thinkers don’t normally perceive.

So if you are a writer, artist, or anyone who needs to think quickly and creatively—such as the parent of a curious child—rev up your magical thinking motor and advance full speed ahead into the realm of multiple possibilities.

“To manifest things in your life meditate on the feeling of already having it.” – Rivers ext. 5273

“You manifest the thoughts and feelings that you put your attention on the most. When self doubt creeps in ask yourself if it’s possible that what your doubting may actually be possible; and if there is the slightest chance that it’s possible change your doubt to feelings of possibility.” – Rivers ext. 5273

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9 thoughts on “The Benefits of Magical Thinking

  1. Theresa Danna

    @Aamir, yes, you’ve misunderstood the article. Let me try to simplify the concept… People who only rely on logic and facts that can be proven with science would think that people who rely on non-scientific theories, such as astrology and psychic readings, are not mentally stable. However, research shows that strictly logical people actually suffer from mental problems more than people who occasionally believe in things that can’t be proven with science. Does this explanation make the article’s point clearer for you?

  2. Theresa Danna

    @Mary Mitchell, you’ve read something into my article that is not there. I never said that depressed individuals don’t lack serotonin or that a lack of serotonin doesn’t cause depression. They do. Depressed individuals ALSO have lower levels of dopamine than nondepressed individuals. I did not mention serotonin in this article because it does not relate to the topic. Here is a direct quote from the March 1, 2008, Psychology Today article titled “Magical Thinking”: “To be totally ‘unmagical’ is very unhealthy,” says Peter Brugger, head of neuropsychology at University Hospital Zurich. He has data, for example, strongly linking lack of magical ideation to anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure. “Students who are ‘not magical’ don’t typically enjoy going to parties and so on,” he says. He’s also found that there’s a key chemical involved in magical thinking. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that the brain uses to tag experiences as meaningful, floods the brains of schizophrenics, who see significance in everything, but merely trickles in many depressives, who struggle to find value in everyday life.”

  3. Rick

    Thank you for the explanation. I’m an Artist,Actor,Screenwriter,Musician,Entertainer: I’m constantly going back and forth between Magical Thinking and Logical Thinking and analysis. I do believe in powers greater than ourselves that can help us move in a positive direction for good. We have to tap into that Source which is both Subconscious and Conscious in Nature. A directed more focused asking for Direction can be very Helpful in differentiating between pure Imagination and Reality.
    There is much the human species knows but is not consciously connected with all the Time: it’s like we get Glimpses of the Knowing. I do believe there are Practices which can help Open up that part of our mind to the Knowing of the Cosmos: meditation, practices of the Dali Lama, Buddhists, Prayer.
    There is much knowledge still that we are Discovering: Its only being open to messages that the Discoveries will Come. The Realms of this Universe are Mind Boggling :-)’s

  4. robert c gorman

    that would explain how my first wife live her life. she was short of dopamine. it was never explained to me this way. and it does make a lot of sence. now maybe i can come to terms with her passing.

  5. Aamir

    “While people who rely strongly on logic may view magical thinking as delusional,”

    I don’t understand this. How the logical thinking can lead to delusions.

    “that a lack of magical thinking can actually be more of a mental health concern.”

    I think, the presence of magical thinking~wishful thinking should be a concern of mental health.

    Or I misunderstood the article ?

  6. Mary Mitchell

    Depression is the result of lack or decrease in serotonin and not dopamine. As a mental health specialist, prescribing antidepressants that are serontonin reuptake inhibitors is the first line treatment for depression.

  7. Gwendolyn

    I was walkong back tee my car from out ds gas station and on the ground in front of my car there was five playing cards an ace of hearts,a king of hearts,a queen of hearts,and two of.hearts can u tell me wat dat means

  8. Gina Rose ext.9500Gina Rose ext.9500

    VERY nice article !!!!!

    I’ve read for many successful people in my lifetime, many of whom would agree with this article.


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