Bad Luck Comes in Threes: Separating Superstition from Reality

By: HowStuffWorks  | 
bad luck comes in 3
Widespread Belief: The "rule of three" is found in various cultures, suggesting patterns in misfortune. Marcel Eberle / Unsplash

Superstitions have been a part of human culture for centuries, and one of the most enduring beliefs is that bad luck comes in threes. From ancient folklore to modern-day anecdotes, this superstition has permeated our collective consciousness. But is there any truth to this claim, or is it simply a product of our superstitious minds? In this article, we will explore the origins of the belief, examine the psychological factors that contribute to its persistence, and separate fact from fiction.


The Origins of the Superstition

A Mathematical Symbolism

Mathematics and symbolism often play a significant role in superstitions, and the number three is no exception. In many cultures, three is seen as a symbol of balance and completeness. The triangle, with its three sides, represents stability and harmony. The Pythagoreans, an ancient Greek philosophical school, regarded three as the first true number. This mathematical significance might lead one to assume that three is associated with good luck rather than bad.

Patterns in Life and Folklore

The prevalence of the number three in our lives and folklore is undeniable. Many significant aspects of our existence are structured around threes. From the Holy Trinity in Christianity to the Trimurti in Hinduism, the concept of three as a divine triad is deeply ingrained in religious traditions. In mythology and literature, three often appears as a recurring motif. Fairy tales are built around threes, with three bears, three wishes, and three challenges. Even in everyday life, we count to three before starting a race or use a pattern of three in jokes.



The Belief in Bad Luck

The Paradox of Three

It is intriguing to consider why a number associated with balance and completeness is also connected to bad luck. The belief that bad luck comes in threes is not limited to specific events but extends to various aspects of life. For example, the superstition suggests that deaths, accidents, or even personal misfortunes tend to occur in threes. This paradoxical notion raises questions about its origins and validity.

Historical and Cultural Perspectives

The origins of the belief in bad luck coming in threes are difficult to trace definitively. One theory suggests that the superstition emerged during the Crimean War, where soldiers were warned against lighting three cigarettes from the same match to avoid being spotted by the enemy. Another theory connects the belief to Russian funeral rituals, where three altar candles were lit by the same taper. However, these explanations are speculative and lack concrete evidence.


Psychological Explanations

While the origins of the belief remain elusive, psychologists offer insights into why people tend to embrace the notion of bad luck in threes. One explanation lies in our innate desire for certainty and pattern recognition. By attributing a limit of three to a string of bad luck, we create a sense of closure and control. It provides a psychological comfort, allowing us to believe that the streak of misfortune will soon come to an end.


Challenging the Superstition

Statistical Analysis

To determine the validity of the belief that bad luck comes in threes, we can turn to statistical analysis. By examining large datasets and analyzing patterns, researchers have found no evidence to support the claim that bad luck occurs more frequently in groups of three. Randomness, rather than any inherent numerical pattern, appears to govern the occurrence of unfortunate events.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias, a cognitive bias that leads us to seek out information that confirms our preexisting beliefs, can contribute to the perpetuation of the belief in bad luck coming in threes. When we experience three consecutive negative events, our minds selectively remember and reinforce the pattern, disregarding the numerous times when bad luck did not occur in threes.


Cultural Influence and Media

The belief in bad luck coming in threes has been perpetuated throughout history by cultural traditions and popular media. Films, novels, and other art forms often incorporate this superstition, reinforcing its presence in our collective consciousness. As a result, individuals may be more likely to notice and remember instances that align with the belief, further solidifying its perceived validity.


Coping with Superstition

Finding Comfort in Superstitions

Despite the lack of empirical evidence, superstitions can serve a psychological purpose by providing a sense of comfort and control in uncertain times. Believing in the notion that bad luck comes in threes can offer a temporary reprieve from anxiety and help individuals cope with challenging circumstances. The psychological benefits derived from these beliefs should not be dismissed outright.

Rational Approaches to Misfortune

While superstitions may provide temporary solace, it is essential to approach misfortune from a rational standpoint. Instead of attributing negative events to mystical forces, it is more productive to focus on practical solutions and personal agency. By taking proactive steps to address challenges, individuals can regain a sense of control over their lives and overcome adversity.




The belief that bad luck comes in threes has captivated our imaginations for centuries. From its mathematical symbolism to its prevalence in folklore, the number three holds a significant place in human consciousness. However, upon closer examination, the superstition lacks empirical support and is likely a product of psychological biases and cultural influence. While superstitions can offer temporary comfort, it is important to approach misfortune with rationality and resilience. By doing so, we can navigate life's challenges with a clear mind and a steadfast belief in our ability to overcome them.

Remember, the next time you find yourself experiencing a series of unfortunate events, rather than attributing them to the belief in bad luck coming in threes, embrace the power of your own agency and take proactive steps to turn the tide in your favor.


This article was created using AI technology.