Do Bad Things Really Come in Threes?

For a long time now, I’ve believed the superstition that things come in threes. Mainly bad things. Sometimes deaths, specifically, but often just bad things in general. I know it’s silly, and the thing is, I’m not a superstitious person. After all, I believe that God is in control, and He has a plan – and those beliefs don’t really leave a lot of room for superstitions and things such as fate and luck. But it really does seem as if three bad things occur close together.

This happened to me yesterday, as a matter of fact. In one afternoon, I got three e-mails with bad news. First, I learned that a former co-worker is being deployed to Iraq. Second, I found out that a friend has called off her August wedding. And third, I got an e-mail from a pregnant friend who is having complications and had to go to the hospital. All this within just a few hours!

Those three pieces of news coming so close together really made me think about this belief. Where does it come from anyway? Most superstitions or common phrases have an interesting origin or background, so I decided to find out about this one. Who originally decided that bad things come in threes?

After about an hour of searching, I’m sorry to say, I still don’t know. Wikipedia let me down. Google couldn’t help. Even couldn’t tell me much about it. I did find a long (looooooong!) list of different uses for and definitions of three and a very (verrrrrrry) vague explanation of the superstition.

What I did find was an article published in 1984 saying that no, kids, bad things don’t come in threes. It’s just your perspective. (Side note: This article contains a lot of the same positive thinking philosophies that have been written about in certain Oprah-promoted books. But this author makes a point to note that “[e]xpectations don’t always turn into reality.”)

Anyway, it’s true. Looking for threes makes it a lot more likely that we’ll notice thing in groups of three. I know that. So, while I didn’t find out where this belief started, I did get a good reminder from this article: “Things happen one at a time. Whether they are seen as the worst or the best is determined by you alone.”

This little research project has confirmed that there’s really no point believing – or expecting – bad things come in threes. But maybe it wouldn’t hurt to think about how many times good things come three at a time.

Because of course, there are some real and good significances to the number three. The trinity, for one. A solid marriage, for another. And don’t forget some other “important” threes: nursery rhymes, trilogies, famous characters and silly movies.

8 Comments Do Bad Things Really Come in Threes?

  1. chelleybutton May 8, 2008 at 4:23 am

    there are some threes in harry potter too, but i won’t get into that… ;)

    and i agree with you — that answer on was really strange & vague!

  2. chelleybutton May 8, 2008 at 4:25 am

    oh, & 1 more thing (sorry for all the comments!) — sorry about all your bad things today! i hope at least 3 good things come your way soon!

  3. photoqueen May 9, 2008 at 2:10 am

    Thanks, chelley. I thought that pic was funny, too. I just did a search for pictures of three items…and that’s what I found. :)

  4. Kimberly May 9, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    I totally know what you mean. We had two heart attacks on our block last week and I totally caught myself thinking “ok, who is going to be #3?”
    And a prayer request while I’m mentioning it, one of the people is fine, but the other is dying of cancer and her son (who has been taking care of her for forever) is really finding everything very hard because he doesn’t know what his mom would want him to do in the situation. They are non-church-going Christians and are asking for prayer.

  5. melilotnfosco May 16, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    at the nursing home we expect people to die in threes, but lately it hasn’t been seeming to be that true.
    i am majorly superstitious about jinxing things, though. i try not to be, because i know it isn’t true, but whenever i say i want something to happen, i figure it won’t (like i’m assuming i’ll get stuck with 4 girls since i want 2 boys – and even saying that seems like a jinx because i feel like by saying that i won’t ever get married). i think people just have a tendency to assume the worst.

  6. hobbitsister May 17, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    i’m superstitious about jinxing things, too – sometimes i even knock on wood.
    but as for the threes, there might not be scientific evidence to it, but when i worked in a nursing home people always seemed to die in threes.

  7. chelleybutton May 20, 2008 at 2:14 am

    may 7th was kind of a while ago, photo… ;)

  8. photoqueen June 2, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Kimberly – I’m so sorry to hear about your neighbor. And also, I’m so sorry I didn’t respond when you first posted. Have you had the chance since then to have any conversations with your neighbor and her son? It sounds like God has plans for this family…

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