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Who’s lucky enough for Lucky Girl syndrome?

Reviewed by Susan Radzilowski, MSW, LMSW, ACSW

A pair of hands holds up a magic 8 ball

When the Lucky Girl phenomenon exploded on TikTok earlier this year, I didn’t pay it much mind. It appeared that TikTokers had rebranded manifestation—the idea that you can make your desires come true by believing in them—as a much cooler, Pinterest-worthy version. As with many trends sparked by social media, I assumed this one would enjoy its 15 minutes of fame and be forgotten within a week.

Turns out I was wrong about its staying power: The hashtag #luckygirlsyndrome has accumulated well over half a billion views. Its luck clearly hasn’t run out yet.

So what’s the appeal? At its core, the trend promotes positivity and mantras like “I’m so lucky—everything works out for me” while minimizing anything deemed “unlucky.” We live in a world where we have no say in many of the factors shaping our lives, so magical thinking like this can serve as a coping mechanism, offering an illusion of complete control over what happens to us.

But looking deeper into this trend brought me back to a time when “positive thinking only” dictated my thoughts and stopped real emotions from coming to the surface.

We can only control so much

I often use a metaphor with therapy clients who are avoiding their feelings: Think of your emotions like a beach ball you’ve been shoving underwater. You might be doing a great job at first, but eventually buoyancy does its thing and the ball pops up and over your head. You can’t stuff difficult feelings under the water; they’ll always come up one way or another.

My early iteration of lucky thinking came crashing down in the second semester of my master’s program, when COVID-19 infiltrated our lives. I was already stressed from balancing school and a full-time corporate job during my quarter-life crisis era. I’d been avoiding all negative feelings, for fear of having a “lack mindset” or seeming ungrateful—but the pandemic ground all my aspirations to a halt anyway.

The premise of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is that our thoughts can influence our feelings. While that’s true, it’s also important to recognize what’s under your control and what’s not—especially when lucky thinking doesn’t produce the results you’d hoped for.

The allure of positive thinking

As a society, we shy away from showcasing certain challenging emotions, relying on labels like “good” or “bad” to describe anger, sadness, anxiety, eagerness, confidence, and so on. But it’s essential to recognize that without negativity, positivity has no meaning. A warped sense of positive thinking can look like a highlight reel on Instagram, excluding any mention of failure, difficulty, or shortcomings.

Privilege also plays a role in this conversation. We don’t choose the families or situations we’re born into, and many aspects of our lives are the results of our environment. Given the lack of an equal playing field, lucky thinking can turn into a slippery slope of self-blame. Until we live in a more equitable society where everyone has access to the same opportunities and resources, lucky thinkers must recognize their privilege.

Healthy strategies for thinking positively

Practicing self-compassion can decrease anxiety, depression, and fear of failure and boost your overall well-being. An excellent place to start is by placing your hand over your heart and repeating, “May I experience peace and happiness.”

Accepting and acknowledging your situation, instead of resisting feelings you perceive as negative, is the next step toward shaping your emotional well-being. This mindset enables you to move forward with what is, rather than being stuck in denial (and thereby forcing positive thinking as a kind of bandage). Relying on forced positive thinking as a quick fix minimizes the depth of what you’re truly experiencing. When we avoid and suppress our full range of emotions, we miss the chance to learn, grow, and heal from situations.

Recording your thoughts can be a valuable way to keep track of them throughout the day, as well as any resulting emotions. The following questions can help you sift through and challenge your thoughts as they come up:

  • What makes me believe this thought is true?
  • What’s the reason for my belief?
  • Is it possible that this thought is not true after all?
  • How else can I look at this?
  • What would be the worst possible outcome?
  • What’s the best possible outcome?
  • If this happened to a friend, what would I tell them?

Supportive positivity versus toxic positivity

Supportive positivity involves validating emotions. Emotions bring us together and help us build meaningful connections. When we have a healthy relationship with our emotions, we set ourselves up for success in navigating any curveballs or obstacles that come our way.

Toxic positivity involves invalidating feelings. Invalidation can often increase the intensity of a situation. No matter how much we’d like to radiate good vibes everywhere we go, we’re all bound to have bad days. Validation is not agreeing or giving in; it’s simply accepting your emotions nonjudgmentally.

Back in 2020, I had to accept the state of the world we all were thrown into. My acceptance didn’t mean I approved of what was going on, but it helped me deal with the pain I was experiencing and created the possibility of moving forward.

How to challenge self-defeating core beliefs

Cognitive reframing is a CBT tool that helps you take a close look at the thoughts and core beliefs that impact different areas of your life. Reframing your core beliefs might look like making the switch from “I’m never good enough” to “I am more than enough,” or from “I don’t deserve happiness” to “I am worthy of happiness.”

Effective ways to use Lucky Girl mantras

A mantra can fall into toxic territory if it dismisses or minimizes your emotional experience. Mantras like “Everything happens for a reason” seem to imply that the recipient deserves a personal tragedy for some greater good.

For example, let’s say you weren’t accepted into the top university you applied to, even though you felt you were a star candidate with excellent grades. A healthy mantra that acknowledges your emotions and accepts the situation might sound like this: “It is frustrating that I didn’t get into my top choice, but I accept that the admissions office felt another student would be a better fit. Other schools are also a great fit for me.”

“Luck” and happiness are within reach

Remember that Lucky Girl syndrome has nothing to do with luck. But you can make positive changes by practicing mindfulness, engaging in self-care, and meeting yourself with kindness.

Setting boundaries around lucky thinking, rejecting toxic positivity, and embracing all your feelings and emotions are healthy ways to hop back into the driver’s seat and focus on what’s truly in your control.

About the author

Brianna Paruolo, MSEd, CMHC-LP, works as a women’s perfectionism and self-esteem therapist, offering guidance and support to women who want freedom from the pressures they so often place on themselves. She is passionate that everyone can welcome a new normal where they love themselves and face the future with hope. She is a provisionally licensed therapist in New York who received her master’s in clinical mental health counseling from St. John’s University.