Yes, There Really Is Such A Thing As A Friendly Ghost

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.

When it comes to ghost stories, the scarier the better, right? Well, probably not for the person who's stuck dealing with the actual spirit. More often than not, ghosts are unwanted, frightening entities that we assume mean us harm, but that doesn't take into account benevolent hauntings, a.k.a. friendly ghosts. And no, we aren't just talking about Casper.

A benevolent spirit can be easily mistaken as something more malevolent, since most ghosts make themselves known in a very particular way, like moving household items, turning lights on and off, or opening and closing doors. What makes the difference between a spooky ghost and a friendly one is why they're in your home — and why they want you to know that they're there.

People who have experienced benevolent hauntings often describe moments in which an unknown force saves them from a minor inconvenience. Lost items reappear out of nowhere, TV channels change on their own, and snacks are tossed to children from high shelves.

Besides performing helpful gestures, benign ghosts will also appear for profoundly personal reasons. Some people believe a deceased loved one is trying to reach them, while others believe their friendly ghosts arrived when they needed help moving on or improving their lives (like the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol).

So, why is it that bad ghost stories seem to abound while benevolent ghost encounters seem few and far between? For one thing, any occurrence that we can't explain is scary (that's why many of us believe in ghosts in the first place). Beyond that, we're actually more likely to remember bad or frightening things than we are pleasant things. A 2007 study found that negative emotions (like sadness or fear) increase activity in the areas of the brain that process memories. This suggests that we remember negative events in greater detail than mundane or positive ones. So, even if a friendly ghost has paid you a visit, you might not recall that encounter as readily as a scarier one.

As fair as it is to expect the worst from ghosts (like, they're ghosts), remember to do a gut-check before you decide you've got to get rid of it. If you've recently lost a family member, moved to a new house, or went through a difficult breakup, that seemingly spooky entity might just be saying "hi" to let you know you're not as alone as you might think.