‘Enough ah’, I warned Chloe (not actually Chloe — I don’t know a single person with that name). She stopped mid-sentence on her analysis as to why scorpios are great matches for me, and we proceeded to talk about something else.
That semi-hostile response came from the old me, an ex-sceptic who knew nothing about the wonders of horoscopes.
Truth is, the only interaction that I have had with my horoscope then was limited to how badly it gets misspelt. I never understood why pisces is pronounced pie-ces, but spelt otherwise. And then we have pieces, pronounced pis-ces, to continually throw me off. As I type, I know for a fact that the same word will be butchered in various permutations over and over again. Horoscopes baffled me, and I am left with questions that nobody can answer, like why is the symbol for cancer so overtly sexual?
The fact that our sign may be wrong to begin with did not help in my conversion to a believer either. With 13 constellations as opposed to 12, following the sky’s shift, someone born on 4 August is not a Leo, but a Cancer. I thought NASA’s science made this self-assuring, feel-good mechanism irrelevant. Besides, research has shown that generic personality descriptions can be perceived as accurate if you simply tell someone that it applies to them. Sure, I should pay more attention to my colleagues, and it is a great day to take care of unfinished business. Of course, I should learn to say no and take a break. Old problems can be shoved away, and I should reconnect with my loved ones. I may encounter someone special if I look hard enough, and people will like me if I become more decisive. The stars are all aligned, and this is the best time to do ABC and avoid XYZ.
With such vague predictions, it is easy to dismiss horoscope forecasts as useless fluff. Afterall, it is the epitome of a living binary, a general customisation that is more often than not written by underpaid writers. How can you wield your fate, if there is even such a thing, simply by knowing your date of birth, that one special day that is shared with 20.8 million other living people across the globe?
Cynicism towards horoscopes are not unheard of. After all, they are but unscientific speculations inferred by our brain’s amazing power to connect the dots, however far apart they are. However, as time wears on, it becomes apparent that a disturbingly large chunk of your life will not, and cannot, be controlled. Just as how carrying good luck charms and following superstitions provide reassurance, horoscopes too, can soothe stress. When luck intervenes and reinvents the notion of logic and fairness in the cruelest of ways, or when life bollixes with your sanity, horoscopes can step in to provide a much needed relief and guidance amidst the pandemonium.
Horoscopes are all the more compelling today as a form of coping mechanism to the rising uncertainty and rapid pace of everyday life. It has evolved, almost ironically, to become the new religion for the non-religious. Accurate or otherwise, it has the ability to distract you from the turbulence of life, and focus your attention on making the best out of what you have. That is, if you let it.
By alerting you to a possible unknown fear, encouraging you to weed the source of your worries and cozy up with your partner, and even reassuring you that today is likely to be productive, horoscopes can not only egg you on, but also converge your energy on things that are actually controllable.
Want to migrate but wrestle with guilt about leaving your family behind? Address the root cause of your worry by taking the first step and seeking their opinion. Upset that you missed two buses by a fraction of a second? Fret not, because today will be a productive one and you can afford to wait a couple more minutes for the next bus. Stressed over multiple failed BTO attempts? The reading says to just cozy up with your partner and perhaps talk about alternatives. Feeling rather unsettled about your decision to attempt Da La (which literally translates to ‘big spicy’) at a newly opened Ma La Xiang Guo stall? Ah ha! You knew that an unknown fear will haunt you, so that is out of the way.
For today, at least.
As evident, it is the vagueness of horoscopes which lends itself useful for all occasions that make it so powerful. If anything, they provide a sense of certainty in an otherwise chaotic world, and we can all agree that our world today is very much in disarray.
In an internet age where social media usage can cause poor mental health, horoscopes have the ability to detoxify the space. The fact that 70% of information in newspaper horoscopes is positive suggests the potential for horoscopes to provide a needful dosage of optimism. Amidst an environment of stress and uncertainty, horoscopes give good reasons, albeit unscientific ones, to counter and balance the negativity online. This is all the more imperative considering how social networking sites are curating negativity to sell your fear and outrage for profits. Today, such sites engage readers like yourself by systematically manipulating algorithms to make emotional posts, which can churn out more likes, shares and comments, more visible. Subscribing to harmless positivity in horoscopes amidst the space can help strike a balance in your newsfeed.
Horoscopes can perpetuate confirmation bias, but is that necessarily bad? They teach you how to read yourself and inject balance back into life. When you make sense of a general forecast, the bulk of the interpretation is based on schematic knowledge about yourself. Through your filtered lens, vague readings can be scoped down and applied to things that you care about. The insights generated are customised for you, by you.
Not only do you learn more about yourself, horoscopes even prompt you to balance different aspects of life. When in love with a partner, it reminds you to not neglect family. When climbing the corporate ladder and basically living in the CBD, it tells you that all will be for nought without health. Despite the generous wisdom and life lessons, horoscopes have no obligations. It only suggests, and is never a ‘must’, but a ‘should’ or ‘can’, gently nudging you in a general, right direction. Horoscopes make you a better person in the most vague of ways, through specific reminders on certain aspects of your life. In this sense, it is the mentor that we have always dreamt of, and the best, free self-improvement guide book out there. Insert the words ‘step-by-step guide’, ‘declutter’ and various synonyms for zen in the description and you will have a best seller.
Today, horoscope readings are no longer limited to an obscure corner at the back of Straits Times newspapers and magazines. It is easily accessible via a plethora of sites, e-mail subscriptions, and social media, which facilitates the therapeutic routine of checking monthly, weekly, or daily forecasts. Easing into a routine can have many psychological benefits, not limited to improving insomnia and ADHD. Checking in with yourself habitually provides an anchor of predictability to soothe raging, overthinking minds into placid ones. This introduction of stability makes horoscopes a great compass for millennials who are trying to orientate lives as young adults.
Horoscopes are nothing like that friend your aunt calls a bad influence. It is the caring and loving neighbourhood Ah Ma at the void deck who you actually like, who asks about your day with the cutest, wrinkly smile. They are a smart vessel that facilitates self-evaluation and self-improvement. Kudos to the Babylonians who sorted out the stars 3,000 years ago.
Besides, I love how convenient horoscopes are, because not every person can be bothered to take a 30 minute Myers-Briggs test to know if you are an INFP, ESTP, or ENFJ or any of the 16 personalities. Sometimes, we just want to throw in a birth date and wait for robots to dish out incredibly vague yet applicable life advices. If a harmless placebo indeed cures, why stop?
The next time Chloe comes to you with horoscope relationship advice, give it a go.
Don’t be such a Taurus.