Tourists flock to Rome to throw their hard earned money away into the Trevi Fountain. Everyday, foreign frolickers throw a total of 3000 euros into the fountain’s flowing waters. Are humans collectively crazy for throwing away that kind of money? Why do we bother? I would love to see a list of of the most popular things to wish for, I think it would say a lot about humanity.
Why do we make wishes at fountains?
1. It’s a historical tradition
My inner Marxist is telling me that tossing coins for wishes was the genius money-making scheme of a bourgeois fountain owner, perhaps from the 1800s. He convinced the poorest members of society to part with what little money they earned through their alienated labour. He told them that their wishes would come true and promised them prosperity in the future.
Whilst this explanation is probably true, a quick google search has told me that tradition origins of wishing-wells goes further back in time.
We all know that water is the essential, life-giving substance for life on the planet. During humanity’s earlier years, tribes traversed though tough terrain to find fresh water. When they found it, it was considered a gift from the gods. Throwing coins in the water was an offering to show their gratitude. Perhaps the earliest evidence we have of throwing coins into the wishing well is the Coventina Well in the United Kingdom. Scientists found thousands of coins dating from the times of the Roman empire.
The tradition of throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain became hugely popular through the 1954 film Three Coins in The Fountain. This is where the famous-threefold-coin-toss-ritual came from:
1: Throw 1 coin into the Trevi Fountain and you will return to Rome one day.
2. Throw 2 coins into the Trevi Fountain and you’ll fall in love with a Roman.
3. Throw 3 coins into the Trevi Fountain and you’ll marry that Roman.
Thanks Hollywood for ripping our money away from us yet again
2. We’re dreamers
Historical traditions aside, I think we really make wishes because we’re dreamers. As romantic as it sounds, having the capacity to think about our future hopes, desires and plans isn’t always a good thing. It can make us forget to enjoy the present and be grateful for what we have. When we wish for things, we risk climbing onto the hedonic treadmill and focusing on what we don’t have, instead of appreciating what we do.
Isn’t it interesting that the idea of the wishing well has morphed from a way of expressing gratitude for abundance (like the tribes searching for water) into a way of expressing our desires, whether they be for a new iPhone or for your great aunt’s cancer to be cured.
What to wish for?
Of course I don’t believe that making a wish makes your dream any more likely to come true. However, I do believe that tangible actions and symbols can be powerful influences in our lives, and help change our own behaviour (Religion knows ALL about this). So if you feel like making a wish, here are some ideas of things to wish for. Note that these totally still work even if you don’t throw your money away 😉
1. Other people’s happiness
Spending your wish on yourself is lame. Take a moment to think of someone you know who might be having a hard time. Or maybe they’re having an awesome time too. Wish for something that would make them smile. Then send them a message to tell them what you wished for. Whether or not it comes true, I’m sure your wish will put a smile on their face.
2. To learn something new
Learning new things can be fun and exciting (like practising a new language), but it can also be upsetting (like learning climate change is ruining the planet). Either way, the more informed you are, the better you can navigate the question of how to live, relate to people and make choices. You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it, so better wish that you’ll soon find out!
3. To solve a problem
If there’s one thing humanity’s got, it’s a whole lotta problems. Not only refugee crises, sweatshops, poverty, melting ice-caps… but also jealously, prejudice, stress and impossible-to-open jars of jam. A fountain or river can be the perfect backdrop for brainstorming those world-changing ideas!
4. To create something
Listen to those trickling fountain waters and breathe in the inspiration! Look a the intricate work of sculpture and remember how beautiful art, words and music make the world go round. We spend so much of our time consuming stuff, but creating is where the fun is really at. Make a wish, then go sprinkle some of your unique style into the world .
5. Make a goal/plan
If you’re not big on airy-fairy wishes, then forget about it. Instead, make a goal. Maybe you want to live a healthier lifestyle, save some money or create better habits. Break the goal down into specific steps you can take to achieve it and a timeline for working towards it….and BOOM you got yourself a kickass plan.
6. Don’t wish – go tribal style and be grateful
You’re in Rome ffs. You have a lot of things to be thankful for. Take a leaf out of tribal humanity’s book, before we became obsessed with individualism and selfish desires. Let the abundant water be an opportunity to feel thankful for the good luck that has led you to Rome.
Have you ever thought about what things to wish for in Rome?