Happy Go Lucky
Posted March 18, 2010
Are you one of the lucky people? You know, one of those people that always seems to be in the right place at the right time, that is lucky in love and has good parking karma? Do good things happen to you by chance? If you aren't one of those people, do you want to be?
Lucky people meet their perfect partners, achieve their lifelong ambitions, find fulfilling careers, and live happy and meaningful lives. Their success is not due to their working especially hard, being amazingly talented, or being exceptionally intelligent. Instead, they appear to have an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time and enjoy more than their fair share of lucky breaks. –Dr. Richard Wiseman
As a sociologist, I am skeptical of "luck." I've always felt lucky myself, but I'm aware that I was born into fortunate circumstances that make life easier for me than it is for others. I say I'm lucky, and by that I mean I'm grateful for my life circumstances. I know things that are out of our control affect our social status—whether we are born black or white, short or tall, to rich parents or poor, go to a good school or a sketchy one—and that those things can have a pretty profound effect on our health and happiness.
At least for some people.
Some people are born into lucky circumstances and their lives seem charmed. Others seem spoiled and unable to make the most of their good fortune. Similarly, there are always people who are raised in the worst imaginable situations who rise above it.
I've always credited success—difficult circumstances or not—to hard work and resilience, to having a growth mindset and the ability to cope with failure. Turns out that luck has something to do with it, too. Moreover, luck is not really what we think it is. Luck is not entirely chance, a whole body of research shows; it is a skill set.
Luck is a Skill?
Main Entry: luck
1 a : a force that brings good fortune or adversity b : the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual
2 : favoring chance; also : success
By definition, luck is generally a force outside of ourselves, over which we have no control. Random chance, or fate, can change our lives for better or worse at the blink of an eye. Most would agree that is better to be lucky than unlucky, but who's to say why someone is lucky or not?
Richard Wiseman is. He's conducted dozens of studies over just as many years about why some people are star-crossed while others perpetually doomed. His book, The Luck Factor, is one story after another about charmed people who get everything they ever dreamed of, seemingly by chance. Wiseman also writes about those people whose lives are perpetual train-wrecks: they barely have a chance to pull themselves up from one random misfortune before the next blow comes their way.
Wiseman and his colleagues have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that lucky people are made, not born. That they are skilled at the things that bring luck. Life circumstances might bring fortune, but luck enables us to reap the best of it. Furthermore, by practicing those skills that make us "lucky," even the most ill-fated among us can improve our luck.
Why We Want Our Kids to Consider Themselves Lucky
Research shows that people who believe themselves to be lucky are far more satisfied with their lives than unlucky people or people who think of themselves as neither lucky nor unlucky. Lucky people are happier with their family life, their personal life, their financial situation, their health and their career. How lucky we feel is connected to how much gratitude we have, as well as to our confidence and optimism—incredibly important positive emotions. Luck is hugely related not just to our success, but to our happiness. In fact, the word happy originally meant lucky—hap meant "chance" or "fortune".
Like happiness, luck can be cultivated. (Interestingly, in Welsh the word for lucky first meant wise, something which indicates experience, not chance.) But being lucky or unlucky is not related to intelligence. Usually without realizing it, lucky people live by four principles—they've developed four particular habits, really—and so they seem to twist fate in their favor.
I'm now so convinced about the importance of luck for happiness that in the coming weeks I'm going to blog about how to teach our kids those four specific skills (and 12 sub-skills) that will make them lucky. I have realized that luck is not something to think about only on St. Patrick's Day, and it certainly isn't something to be cultivated with four-leaf clovers. So stay tuned for next week's posting: "How to Raise Lucky Kids."
Are you lucky? Are your kids? If so, to what do you attribute your luck?
Christine Carter, Ph.D., is a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, whose mission it is to teach skills for a thriving, resilient and compassionate society. Best known for her science-based parenting advice, Dr. Carter follows the scientific literature in neuroscience, sociology, and psychology to understand ways that we can teach children skills for happiness, emotional intelligence, and resilience. She is the author of the new book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents and of a blog called Half Full. Dr. Carter also has a private consulting practice helping families and schools structure children's lives for happiness; she lives near San Francisco with her family.
Wiseman, Richard (2003). The Luck Factor: The Four Essential Principles. Hyperion: New York.