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‘Be delusional,’ ‘Lucky Girl Syndrome’ is Gen Z’s answer to optimism

Experts say a positive mind-set can help in the short run, but it will take more than a mantra to solve life’s problems

An illustration of a four leaf clover and a horseshoe
(Chelsea Conrad/The Washington Post)
6 min

Every generation has its own form of optimism and self-belief.

Boomers had “the power of positive thinking,” from the book written by Methodist minister Norman Vincent Peale. Gen X had “The Secret,” the best-selling book about manifestation touted by Oprah Winfrey. Millennials dutifully constructed their vision boards.

And now Gen Z has “Lucky Girl Syndrome.”

Lucky Girl Syndrome is essentially the belief that affirmative mantras and a positive mind-set in life will bend everyday events in your favor.

On TikTok, people are crediting Lucky Girl Syndrome as the reason they’ve won sports bets, become first-time home buyers and gotten a raise. Astrologists are tying Lucky Girl Syndrome to birth charts, and others are sharing the positive mantras they tell themselves to have a lucky day.

TikTok videos tagged with #LuckyGirlSyndrome have been watched a collective 149.6 million times.

The recent surge in popularity of Lucky Girl Syndrome can be traced to Laura Galebe, a 22-year-old creator who in December posted a TikTok about her charmed life, with the caption “Let’s talk about The ‘Lucky girl’ Syndrome.”

“There’s literally no better way to explain it than it feels like the odds are completely in my favor,” Galebe told her audience as she applied her makeup, adding, “I’m constantly saying great things are always happening to me unexpectedly.”

In an interview, Galebe said she attributes her success these past two years, from her job as a content creator to her life in New York City, to the power of positive thought.

For her Gen Z audience, she has distilled her advice into the simplest of terms.

“Just try to be as delusional as possible and believe that the things you want can come to you,” Galebe said. “And then come back and tell me if it didn’t change your life.”

Lucky Girl Syndrome, at its essence, is based on what’s called the law of attraction, a philosophy that claims the energy from our thoughts attract and determine whatever we experience in life. The concept dates at least to the 1800s, said Christopher Chabris, a cognitive scientist with Geisinger Health system and the co-author of “The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us.

“It’s kind of like a super-meme that every 15 or 20 years, as far as I can tell, sort of changes into something else,” Chabris said.

The notion has been debunked as pseudoscience, although there are some explanations as to why people often think the effect of a positive mind-set is real.

Optimism and mantras can help, but they don’t solve everything

Carol Dweck, a Stanford University professor, for instance, has found that how students perceive their own abilities can influence their motivation and achievement. Those who have a “growth” mind-set, which is a belief that intelligence can be developed, outperform those who believe their intelligence is fixed, according to Dweck.

Practicing optimism by reframing your thoughts around a more positive mind-set has been shown to build resilience and lead to better health. And mantras, which are phrases repeated to oneself to elicit calm or confidence, have been shown to improve well-being. “Self-talk” has been shown to reduce fatigue during exercise, which in turn can lead to better performance.

Some people believe in the power of manifestation because it’s consistent with whatever positive experiences they notice each day, Chabris said.

“What’s at the root of it is a psychological bias called ‘illusory correlation’ where we see things as related when, in fact, they were merely coincidences or chance occurrences,” Chabris said. “Repeating a mantra or an affirmation and having something good happen to us later that day is a perfect example of that.”

The affirmations we tell ourselves can be a useful tool to interpret life in “a more positive light” and it’s useful “for certain people in certain situations,” said Mark Manson, the author of a best-selling self-help book.

“Maybe it makes you feel better today, but in the long run I don’t think it’s doing anybody any favors,” he said. Manson has called the law of attraction a “candied up version” of confirmation bias. “There’s a fine line between using it as a tool and adopting it as an identity or a fundamental, almost religious, belief in how the universe functions.”

Is there a downside to Lucky Girl Syndrome?

Not everyone on TikTok is on board with the tenets of Lucky Girl Syndrome. Melody Walker, a 37-year-old songwriter who lives in Nashville, called the trend “toxic spirituality” that ends up leaving people to blame themselves for anything that goes wrong in their lives.

“I don’t think that people realize how things that sound so lovely and kind can be twisted into very harmful ideas when taken to the extreme,” Walker said. “There is no magic pill, no absolute answer, and usually things that are selling you an easy fix are actually selling you short. That goes for anything, not just spirituality.”

People’s aspirations and daydreams reflect what they need from life, and it’s important to appreciate that, said Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University. Daydreaming about your future can boost your mood and satisfy you for a moment, but in studies Oettingen has found these fantasies don’t give you the energy to ultimately pursue your goals.

In one study, 83 male graduate students in Germany were asked to predict the likelihood of getting a job in their field of study and whether they’ve fantasized about their dream job. Oettingen found the students who fantasized about their dream job sent out fewer job applications, had fewer job offers and earned less than the other students did two years later.

“Positive fantasies and daydreams are fine for putting a bandage on our present mood, but they’re problematic if we expect from them that they bring us a wish fulfillment. In reality, they won’t,” Oettingen said. “On the contrary, they zap our energy, which makes us less likely that we’ll actually achieve our wishes.”

Experts say they are not trying to discourage positive thinking. But there is a difference between belief in one’s ability because of past success or practice and romanticizing the future by believing that everything will just work out with the right attitude.

But many TikTok users remain believers. In late December, Sammy Palazzolo, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Illinois, shared a video after she and a friend reached a favorite hibachi food truck just before it closed. Palazzolo’s video from December now has more than 4.7 million views.

“It literally works. Like, everything just works out for us now,” Palazzolo said to the camera. “Like just try it and see.”

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