Have things felt a little, I don't know... off these past few weeks?

By Celia Shatzman
Updated June 09, 2015
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Have things felt a little, I don't know... off these past few weeks? Maybe you've fought with your partner, bombed a presentation at work, or missed a flight, leaving you wondering, what in the heck is going on? Well, here's one explanation: Mercury happens to be in retrograde right now, until June 11.

What that means: “The planet Mercury tends to move slowly eastward across our night sky, but every few months it passes Earth in its orbit around the sun and, because of the relative alignment, it travels westward across our night sky for a few days,” explains Matthew Hutson, author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking ($14, amazon.com). “Some people say this ‘retrograde’ movement causes or signals a kink in the pace of life on Earth. They associate it with all sorts or problems or delays that happen during that time, from computer crashes to romantic breakups.”

Popular astrologist Susan Miller, for example, cautions against making big decisions like signing contracts or taking a new job while Mercury is in retrograde, which happens for three weeks, three times a year.

Okay—so all of that may sound straight out of Professor Trelawney's crystal ball. But if you're among the believers, you're not alone. A 2012 survey from the National Science Foundation found that more than half of Americans rated astrology as either "very scientific" or "sort of scientific," which is the highest number of believers since 1983.

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And engaging in a little magical thinking can't hurt—in fact, it may actually be good for you.

“There are two main reasons magical thinking can occasionally be healthy: it provides a sense of control and a sense of meaning,” Hutson says. “A sense of control can boost performance by increasing self-efficacy, so if you feel lucky you actually become lucky."

In one experiment for example, researchers at the University of Cologne in Germany gave a group of about 30 young adults ten tries to sink a put. Half of the people were told they were using a "lucky" golf ball, and in the end those people performed 35% better.

“In other experiments, people who had a lucky charm or were wished good luck performed better on other physical and cognitive tasks. So feeling lucky is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Hutson adds.

Meanwhile, a sense of meaning can help you cope with a tough situation and recover faster. If you think a terrible event was meant to be, you can often find a silver lining.

We may even be hardwired for this thought process, Hutson explains. “We quickly form associations between events—you hold a charm and win a game—and expect the patterns to hold up in the future. We see patterns especially when we feel anxious, as a way to regain control.”

In other words, believing your bad luck this month was written in the stars may help restore order in your mind, which is as good of a reason as any to believe it—as long as you don't take it too seriously.

While there are perks to trusting the planets, Hutson cautions against being overly dependent on such notions. “We might feel lucky and overconfident, taking big risks, or unlucky and defeated, leaving our potential unfulfilled. Since irrational beliefs can be good or bad, we have to be rational about when to encourage them.”