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You Make Your Own Luck

Article #155 • Written by Alan Bellows

Some individuals seem to have an inexplicable abundance of good fortune. They are successful in matters of love, in their careers, in their finances, and in leading happy and meaningful lives. Yet these people don't seem to work particularly hard, nor do they posses extraordinary intelligence or other gifts. Of course there are also the natural opposites of the superfortunate; people who repeatedly fail despite their efforts and talents.

As is true with so many human problems, people tend deal with this difficult-to-quantify inequality by giving it a name-- "luck"-- and then disclaiming any responsibility for how much of it they are apportioned. Luck is considered by many to be a force of nature, coming and going as inevitably as the tide. But Richard Wiseman, a professor at Britain's University of Hertfordshire, has conducted some experiments which indicate to him that we have a lot more influence on our own good fortune than we realize.

Professor Wiseman executed a ten-year study to determine the nature of luck, and published his findings in a book called The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind. Among other things, he experimentally studied the lottery winnings from people who count themselves as "lucky" and compared them to those who are self-described as "unlucky," and found that one's perception of their own luck before a lottery has no bearing on their likelihood of winning. Naturally this outcome was no surprise, because lotteries are driven purely by random chance. But in another test, the good professor asked participants to count the number of photographs in a sample newspaper, and subjects who has described themselves as "lucky" were much more likely to notice a message on page two, disguised as a half-page advertisement with large block letters: STOP COUNTING–THERE ARE 43 PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS NEWSPAPER.

Obviously some measure of luck is based on chance, but this experiment and many others have led Wiseman to conclude that a significant portion of one's good fortune is not random, but rather due to one's state of mind and behaviors. He concludes that luck is an artifact of psychology, where a person is lucky not because of cosmic accidents, but because one achieves a particular mindset which precipitates and amplifies "lucky" events. While this observation may seem obvious, there are many interesting particulars in his findings.

Professor Wiseman's newspaper test illustrated that people who feel lucky do indeed differ from those who do not, but not due to to some outside force. The lucky individuals were paying more attention to their surroundings, which made them more likely to notice the message in the newspaper. During his long study on the nature of luck, he has found that "lucky" individuals usually posses many intersecting qualities, including extroverted personalities, a lack of anxiety, open-mindedness, and optimism. Each of these play an important role in one's luck production.

The essence of luck is opportunity, so it follows that the more opportunities one encounters and the more receptive one is to those opportunities, the "luckier" one is. Wiseman has found that lucky people smile twice as often as others, and engage in more eye contact than unlucky people do. Such outgoing, extroverted behavior exposes a person to more opportunities due to the increased social interaction. Similarly, open-mindedness allows one to encounter a greater number of unique prospects, and makes one more apt to embrace new opportunities.

Professor Wiseman has outlined four principles to help one increase their good fortune:

Principle One: 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 the ill fortune, and take control of the situation.

Unsurprisingly, optimism plays a key role in luckiness, since it strongly affects luck production and luck perception. Wiseman's study shows that a lucky, optimistic person is far more satisfied with all areas of their lives than an unlucky, pessimistic person. An optimist feels lucky for spotting a silver lining, however gray the cloud... yet a pessimist will curse their luck even in the face of good fortune, because they can't see past the green grass on the other side of the fence.

Fortunately, one's mindset is entirely within one's control. An unlucky person who resolves to change their luck can become more social; they can make a conscious effort to be optimistic and make the best of any situation; and they can be more open to new ideas and experiences. In short, if you go looking for luck, you'll probably find it... or so says the professor. With any luck, he's right.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 03 April 2006. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows.

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Posted 03 April 2006 at 09:11 pm

To paraphrase Marvin, the Paranoid Android, "I could post my comment here, but you wouldn't like it."

First! -- Lucky?

Posted 03 April 2006 at 11:30 pm

It's how you play the game

Posted 04 April 2006 at 02:19 am

How intriguing. I can imagine the trouble he must have had in getting funding for his study...unless, of course, he was extraordinarily lucky. Hmmmmmmm. :-)

another viewpoint
Posted 04 April 2006 at 04:59 am

And sometimes you just have to ask yourself...are you feeling lucky? Well are you...punk?

Posted 04 April 2006 at 07:41 am

Good quote [another viewpoint] ^_^
I think I've read something like this somewhere else, and it's sure damn interesting!

Posted 04 April 2006 at 09:55 am

"During his long study on the nature of luck, he has found that "lucky" individuals usually posses many intersecting qualities, including extroverted personalities, a lack of anxiety, open-mindedness, and optimism."

I personally think that drawing a sh*tty lot in life will lead to an introverted personallity, anxiety, close-mindedness, and pessimism.

Oh..and: "yet a pessimist will curse their luck even in the face of good fortune, because they can't see past the green grass on the other side of the fence. "

Pessimism is not envy. One can believe that their life sucks without deluding themselves by thinking that it is any better for anyone else.

another viewpoint
Posted 04 April 2006 at 10:12 am

pseudosanity said: "Pessimism is not envy. One can believe that their life sucks without deluding themselves by thinking that it is any better for anyone else. "

...if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes.
...lead, follow or get out of my way.
...when you're up to your butt in alligators, it may be difficult to remember your original objective was to drain the swamp.
...sometimes you have to take the bull by the tail and face the situation.
...Eat well, stay fit...die anyway.

The sun is shining (somewhere), the birds are singing and it's going to be a great day!
Life is great...'cause it sure beats the heck out of the alternative!

Posted 04 April 2006 at 11:38 am

Here's a rule for life: if you get invited somewhere, ALWAYS GO.

Most of the time nothing terribly interesting happens. Occasionally something really good happens.

90% of the secret of life is just showing up.

Posted 04 April 2006 at 11:45 am

All of this optimism is making me want to vomit. I'm sorry, I simply cannot be optimistic, social, or friendly to people that are all of those things. It unnerves me to think that people can blindly be happy. Let's suffice it to say that I am very, very unlucky.

Posted 04 April 2006 at 12:43 pm

It's easier to laugh when you're already smiling.

Posted 04 April 2006 at 04:04 pm

"In my experience there's no such thing as luck." -Han Solo

Star Wars has so many applications in our lives, don't you think?

Secret Ninja
Posted 04 April 2006 at 06:07 pm

Your own fortunes definately correspond to your perception.

And Han Solo is the man, so whatever he says, goes.

Posted 04 April 2006 at 07:46 pm

Fantastic article as I've always wondered about this phenomenon. I have always considered myself somewhat lucky as things tend to go my way usually but I was never able to find a correlation.

Posted 05 April 2006 at 09:16 am

white_matter said: ""In my experience there's no such thing as luck." -Han Solo

Star Wars has so many applications in our lives, don't you think?"

Even more so when you attribute the quote to the right character (it was actually Obi-Wan Kenobi who said that, in response to Solo).

Posted 05 April 2006 at 03:38 pm

I relate to the meditation part. When I meditate alot my luck gets way better. I also get laid more.

grey matter
Posted 06 April 2006 at 12:19 am

I guess I was lucky to read this article and improve my luck

Posted 06 April 2006 at 05:51 am

So just turn that frown upside down!

Then buy a lottery ticket.

Posted 06 April 2006 at 09:02 am

"I personally think that drawing a sh*tty lot in life will lead to an introverted personallity, anxiety, close-mindedness, and pessimism."

Ahh...but which came first the anxiety and pessimism or the 'bad luck'?

Me thinks the anxiety and pessimism et al. "luck' is purely subjective, you cannot accuratly identify or quantify it. But of those who 'seem' more fortunate...basically they like themselves (most of us don't) and are confident in their abilities and basic goodness. Most of us are dogged by negative, self-hate based ego.

Don't agree? Google 'Buddhism'

Posted 06 April 2006 at 12:11 pm

I love my self-hate.

Posted 06 April 2006 at 01:31 pm

Secret Ninja said: "Your own fortunes definately correspond to your perception.

And Han Solo is the man, so whatever he says, goes."

So its because I'm weird that the most unlikely things always happen to me. I'm not saying I have bad luck, just that the most unlikely thing is the most likely for me. Explains alot.

Posted 08 April 2006 at 05:30 am

Luck is when preperations meets opportunity.

Posted 09 April 2006 at 05:28 am

Some years ago my cousin told me that if he had not been born into this family, he could be so much more. I agreed with him as our large extended family is pretty screwed up. But I said he needed to take the cards dealt to him and play as best he can. I know if me, my siblings and my cousins had better parenting or ANY "real" parenting, we would have been much more than most of us are. However, we are hard workers and do whatever it takes. Most of us have done well enough.

Posted 11 April 2006 at 06:41 am

"As you think in your heart, that's the way you will be"

In other words: The way you see yourself on the inside is how you will be on the outside

You want to be different? See yourself the way you want to be and start acting it out. You're not being hipocritical acting the way you want to be b/c that's the way you really are.

(Quote is from Solomon in his book of proverbs chapter 23 sentence 7)

Posted 22 April 2006 at 02:30 pm

I froze to death (ice cold, no pulse, not breathing, for ?hours?) when I was 2 and would have stayed that way if it weren't for some extreme luck in the PA woods.
- So despite whatever difficulties I've had, pretty much everything after age 2 is gravy for me.
- Also; a few days ago at ~10pm, I just missed getting hit by a car by less than a foot.

Agreed; Perspective is almost everything. If you look at the Total range of possibility, probably The Ultimate Worst possible rarely happened to you.

Using the idea of 'impermanence' can help perspective also; as in this article:

I completely second the Meditation thing. It's pretty great!

Posted 15 May 2006 at 07:15 pm

Funny, I do all of these things...positive outlook, etc., but I still never seem to have any luck. My life is great, but only because I make it that way, though maybe that's what they meant by the term 'luck'.

Sean Et Cetera
Posted 18 May 2006 at 01:43 pm

It was luck that brought me to your site. Actually, it was StumbleUpon that brought me here, but that's a totally different story. Love the site.

Anyway, I can agree with Dr. Wiseman. Perhaps this was the research that showed/talked about the area of the brain that is more active when people think about "lucky" things happening. I know some people who call me lucky, and I believe that I can do anything I try, which matches the principles listed above.

I'm not lucky, I'm just good at what I do.

Posted 28 June 2006 at 11:59 am

Hmm... Yes. Luck is having a inner voice and listening to it.

Posted 13 November 2006 at 01:32 am


.pes·si·mism (ps-mzm)
NOUN: 1.
A tendency to stress the negative or unfavorable or to take the gloomiest possible view.

2. A symptom of the neurological defect known as Optirectalitis.

This common but not well known condition is caused by a split or division of the optical-retinal nerve.

The major branch connecting to the brain, while a smaller densly packed nerve is routed to the spincter of the rectum. This causes the sufferer of this condition to have a shitty outlook on life.

Gotcha! Hehe.

Posted 29 December 2006 at 05:00 pm

Interestingly enough, Dr. Wiseman's theories would also apply to what Napoleon supposedly always asked about a prospective general: "Is he lucky?" By which he likely did not mean 'could he win a lottery', but 'can this person see opportunities on the battlefield others cannot, and move decisively to exploit them'?

Posted 13 March 2007 at 07:02 am

This idea of creating your own lucky destiny is certainly a whole lot more possible for people like us who live in a society where we have a chance to make something for ourselves. I doubt positive thinking goes very far when your making carpets in the dark in some hut in India for example or if you were a jew stuck in a concentration camp.

Posted 11 April 2007 at 09:56 pm

Books like Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich" talk a lot about making your own luck, either good or bad. I found a bit of a tough read, but parts of it were very applicable.

Posted 16 June 2007 at 05:55 am

"I doubt positive thinking goes very far ... if you were a jew stuck in a concentration camp."

In _Maus_, a true story of a concentration camp survivor, making his own luck was the difference between surviving and not.

I just realized an unlikely connection between Maus and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe - towards the end of Maus, the survivor's towel saved his life - like the Hitchhiker's Guide says, the towel is more useful than you would think.

Posted 18 June 2007 at 05:49 am

I totally agree with this article, for instance if you go to a club or party in a bad mood and try to meet a lady, it will never happen but if you are in an especially good mood and feeling positive then your chances increase ten fold

Posted 13 July 2007 at 01:03 pm

It may sound 'big headed' or 'arogant' of me, but I always get the feeling that 'I cannot die', I am not afraid of death, I am only afraid of dying. Yet I feel that whatever I do nothing can hurt me, I feel that if I where to fight in a war there would be no bullet with my name, or if I where to be in a train accident I would be sitting on the 'lucky' seat, I geel as if I would survive.

I always get this feeling in my gut/chest, that I cannot be damaged (immortal almost, but I still like to be modest).
Yet when I just sit back and take a logical view on things, I see that this cannot be true, yet why do I get a feeling in my chest? It is just matter?

Posted 14 July 2007 at 06:29 pm

Interesting article.

What about luck that you don't create. For example in recent news an airplane tragically crashed into two houses the other day. Two parents lost a 4 year old daughter and their son has 3rd degree burns on over 80% of his body - one of the worst kinds of pain. The father also received burns trying to save his children. How can these people ever feel lucky? I'm not trying to sound crass, really.

I just think when people say they have bad luck, they mean things have been out of their control. I probably know more deceased people than live ones. Nothing I could have done, and no amount of optimism on my part can change this.

I used to be a very optimistic and open minded person. Not anymore.

I 've had so many uncontrollable events happen in my life, that now, I have no way of changing my life for the better. I could make it worse if I want to, ha,ha.

I really would like to see some objective responses on this type of luck. Am I missing something?

Posted 13 August 2007 at 11:04 am

I disagree with the assertions and conclusions of this Dr Dude. Opperunity is key in situations with chance. ie, having more opperunities for a positive outcome yeild better results. However, luck covers a vaster feild. For instance, I swing my golf club aiming for the hole in one. Now, there are tons of possibilities whereby my shot will land in that hole or not. However, I only get one chance. So you cant give me more chances, I can only do it right, or do it wrong.

However, there is one more element that goes into ability that isnt even mentioned here. That thing is timing. Wind may work with me one minute, then against me the next. Windows of oppertunity are based on timing as well as ability. With this in mind who cares if I have a 99% chance of winning the lottery if in this time the cards aren't in my favor. Chance isnt the important thing, it is timing, and that is where luck is.

Those with lots of positive luck have good timing and good skills, and the ability to recognise (or just keep in sync with) good timing. Those with poor luck have a difficiency in one or the other. However, timing is the key to it all. So what if I can do a task well if I am off set by poor timing? If I drive my car down the highway, do I have good luck just because I am a good driver? No, I have good results driving because I timed my drive well and was able to apply my driving skills within that narrow operating window.

So in order to actively increase ones luck, chance isnt as much important as forsight. More oppertunities do not automatically make one successful, just provide possibility. Probablity only increases with forsight and skill. Luck is generated in this order, timing, ability, and chance. With poor timing, nothing following it matters. Without skill, the task no matter how many times performed will be successful. Finally chance, without which there would be no oppertunity to excersize the former.

Beautiful Confusion
Posted 20 August 2007 at 12:08 pm

One piece of advice I've been known to give when someone is counting on luck for something is: "Think negative thoughts (i.e. think that the worse is going to happen) that way when you find the outcome you'll be pleasantly surprised rather than sorely dissapointed." I guess after reading this article I should stop saying that. (probably won't happen, this outlook has kept me in a cheery mood for a long time)

Posted 25 February 2008 at 01:54 pm

I wonder how many pessimists saw the message and continued to count the pictures, just in case it was wrong?

Optimistic, social, "lucky" people are also more likely to be very trusting. They make wonderful targets for serial killers, who frankly have a hard time getting to depressed shut-ins.

But now I'm just being dark.

Posted 15 March 2008 at 12:41 pm

"Fortunately, one's mindset is entirely within one's control."

I challenge you or anyone else to justify this statement. Nothing could be further from the truth, and several of your own articles here clearly disprove it.

Posted 22 May 2008 at 11:50 am

Good luck, Bad luck, no luck at all? I believe that these are words we have come up with to descibe the things that happen to us in our lifes. Ones man luck is another mans misfortune. So luck is different for all of us. I've never consider myself luck, but some people in my situation would consider themselves extremely lucky. Im in good health, i have 2 beautiful children, and im fixing to get married,( to a very beautiful and very understanding woman.) So im really far from unlucky. Yet i feel when i go for the things in life (such as money, power, fame) i fall short. Am i unlucky? Whos to say. These things dont matter to some people. So if this is how u measure luck. Look around you at the people less fortunate then you, those who have lost everything in natural disasters or born into poverty. Are you really unlucky or just in the middle of the spectrem.

Posted 09 August 2008 at 03:50 pm

Luck be a lady, tonight!

Posted 11 October 2008 at 04:34 pm

Gosh Darn DI!! How do you do it?

Posted 18 March 2009 at 08:06 pm

How could it possibly have been three years before someone posted:
"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it. "
-Attributed to Thomas Jefferson

Posted 30 September 2010 at 08:20 am

I feel I am genreally a 'Unlucky' person, but after reading this post, I am going to see if thinking positively and feeling you have 'Luck' helps.

I read this post..
uncontrollable_luck 14 July 2007 at 06:29 pm • reply
Interesting article.

What about luck that you don’t create. For example in recent news an airplane tragically crashed into two houses the other day. Two parents lost a 4 year old daughter and their son has 3rd degree burns on over 80% of his body – one of the worst kinds of pain. The father also received burns trying to save his children. How can these people ever feel lucky? I’m not trying to sound crass, really.

How horrible this is could the boy which survived be 'Lucky' because he made it. The plane could have killed everyone, but it didn't, was that a act of 'Luck', or is it completly 'Bad Luck'?

Posted 03 January 2011 at 11:51 pm

I consider myself a lucky person, and though I know my outlook plays a large role in my luck, I don't think it's all about optimism. I think it's more about being free of mind and not having too many attachments. I know quite a few people who always seem to get the short end of the stick, and one thing they seem to have in common is a kind of irrational clinging to things that are important to them. They might be clinging to favorite foods, to ideas about themselves or the world at large, it really doesn't matter. What matters is the fact that they're tying their fates in with some thought or inanimate object, which has no will of its own and cannot in and of itself affect any positive or negative changes in their lives. When conditions favor the objects of their devotion, they get "lucky," and when they don't, they become "unlucky." Because there is no organized force behind any of it, they find themselves gaining half, losing half, gaining half, losing half, ad nauseum, until they're left with very little save a very bitter outlook on life.

I think I'm lucky because I don't get too hung up on the details. I just don't get attached to the specifics. When I want something, it's not because I'm attached to the thing. It's because I'm attached to how it will affect my life. I don't need to be a rock star to have fame, fortune, and prestige. So why get so worked up over being a rock star? Even those desires can be broken down further... why do I want the fame? Why do I want the fortune? Why do I want the prestige? What basic needs really need to be met? I take whatever opportunities come my way to answer those needs, and the hows, whys, whos, etc, are all incidental. In fact, I think the hardest part is finding ways to blend all these opportunities into something coherent, like drawing out a rough sketch using whatever paints and brushes are available to you to fill in the painting that is my life.

Posted 15 January 2014 at 03:44 pm

Well, i recently thought about this, when i play snooker and i play well and i get "lucky shots" that just go into the pockets that only small calculation of angles and such , then after the game or two i would play a slot machine we have in our pub and i would win, anywhere from £2-£30, even thought i may gamble it..but theory is sound...PS...still broke. aha

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