Luck, in our everyday understanding, is a random gift of the universe. The superstitious might go in for rabbits’ feet and four-leaf clovers and the religious for prayer, but otherwise there’s nothing you can do to attract good fortune or repel bad luck. Or is there?
Believe it or not, this is something science has looked into. Experimental psychologist Richard Wiseman has spent over a decade investigating whether lucky and unlucky people actually do anything differently.
To do this he used a newspaper advertisement to solicit hundreds of volunteers who felt they were exceptionally lucky or unlucky then conducted a series experiments to determine what, if anything, set one group apart from the other.
It turned out that, when it came to the difference in outcomes between the two groups, divine providence and random chance had little to do with it. Instead, lucky people had a particular outlook and way of operating in the world that maximized the chances of happy coincidences occurring. Wiseman breaks this outlook down into four principles on his website:
maximise Chance Opportunities Lucky people are skilled at creating, noticing and acting upon chance opportunities. They do this in various ways, including networking, adopting a relaxed attitude to life and by being open to new experiences.
Principle Two: Listening to Lucky Hunches. Lucky people make effective decisions by listening to their intuition and gut feelings. In addition, they take steps to actively boost their intuitive abilities by, for example, meditating and clearing their mind of other thoughts.
Principle Three: Expect Good Fortune. Lucky people are certain that the future is going to be full of good fortune. These expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies by helping lucky people persist in the face of failure, and shape their interactions with others in a positive way.
Principle Four: Turn Bad Luck to Good. Lucky people employ various psychological techniques to cope with, and often even thrive upon, the ill fortune that comes their way. For example, they spontaneously imagine how things could have been worse, do not dwell on ill fortune, and take control of the situation.
You might be thinking that Wiseman’s principles are all well and good, but that people’s ability to adopt them is basically a function of their personality and difficult to change. If you’re a worrywart by nature, for instance, can you really teach yourself not to dwell on bad fortune? Can control freaks learn to break their routines and embrace chance encounters?
Yes, says Wiseman in an article for sceptical Inquirer (download the long, fascinating read here). In it he described operating “luck school” that actually had an impact on increasing participants’ good fortune:
I explained how lucky people… create good fortune in their lives, and described simple techniques designed to help them think and behave like a lucky person. For example… without realising it, lucky people tend to use various techniques to create chance opportunities that surround them, how to break daily routines, and also how to deal more effectively with bad luck by imagining how things could have been worse. I asked my volunteers to spend a month carrying out exercises and then return and describe what had happened. The results were dramatic. 80 per cent of people were now happier, more satisfied with their lives, and, perhaps most important of all, luckier.
Of course, it’s worth noting that some bad luck is just random. If an out of control skier breaks your leg the day after you broke your arm tripping over the neighbour’s dog, you are not to blame for your injuries. But luck can have such a dramatic impact on our lives, from a chance meeting with your future spouse to a coincidental business connection that results in a million dollar deal, that it’s reassuring to know it’s not totally beyond our control.
Do you believe lucky people make their own good fortune?