Make Your Own Luck

Good fortune isn't completely out of your hands. How you play the cards you're dealt may be just as important. Plus: How superstition sneaks up on us, and what happens when the numbers favor us.

How To Get Lucky

The secret to having things go your way

Do you consider yourself lucky or unlucky? Ever wondered what's behind your run of good or bad luck?

Here is interesting advice from renowned psychologist Richard Wiseman, via Erik Calonius and Jonathan Fields. Lucky people are blessed not by good fortune per se, but by a sense of possibility:

"Wiseman surveyed a number of people and, through a series of questionnaires and interviews, determined which of them considered themselves lucky—or unlucky. He then performed an intriguing experiment: He gave both the “lucky” and the “unlucky” people a newspaper and asked them to look through it and tell him how many photographs were inside. He found that on average the unlucky people took two minutes to count all the photographs, whereas the lucky ones determined the number in a few seconds.

How could the “lucky” people do this? Because they found a message on the second page that read, “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” So why didn’t the unlucky people see it? Because they were so intent on counting all the photographs that they missed the message. Wiseman noted,

'Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner, and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through the newspaper determined to find certain job advertisements and, as a result, miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there, rather than just what they are looking for.'"

The relaxed openness that Wiseman describes sounds a lot like the tendency to make lemonade out of lemons -- and to reframe negative experiences in as positive a way as possible.

When I was a kid and faced some disappointment or other, my mother always told me: "Things have a way of working out for the best." She wouldn't have said that for something unqualifiedly bad, like a major illness, but her advice applied to smaller things, like not getting into my first-choice college. (And it turned out to be true, I think -- I met my two best lifelong friends at the school I did attend.)

Over the years, my mother's approach has become a mental habit, something I do reflexively whenever I'm faced with bad news. And I'm grateful for having been taught this outlook.

For more on the psychology of luck, please visit Professor Wiseman's website, here.

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