What Does It Mean To Be Lucky?

I’ve never been a believer in luck – good, bad, or otherwise – so it came as a surprise to me when a woman who had just played a card game with my then three-year-old asked if he was a lucky child. I didn’t have an answer so she went on to explain he’d lost the first game and instead of being upset had asked if they could play again. This, she told me, was an indication he had reason to believe he’d win the next game. I’ve been thinking about that off and on for about fifteen years now and I still don’t believe in luck – good, bad, or otherwise – but I do believe in serendipity. I’ve been content to leave it at that.

At least I was until Flight 1549 landed safely on the Hudson and people began writing about luck. Why weren’t they weren’t writing about surviving. With that on my mind I read “The Unthinkable,” a book that explores the ways people react in a life-threatening emergency and what you can do to better your chances of survival. Next was a book called, “The Survivor’s Club” and from there it was just a skip to “The Luck Factor.”

Dr. Richard Wiseman, author of “The Luck Factor,” has been studying luck for years as the result being misdirected in a library as a child. When he wound up in the magic section, he thumbed though some books that piqued his curiosity and as a result of studying magic, years later he had chance to come upon a woman who knew she’d make out alright as the volunteer in one of his tricks because she was a “lucky” person. He determined to study luck to see if it really did exist. Was it a matter of self-perception? Was it a matter of psychic ability? What made someone lucky?

Wiseman’s wonderful book spells it all out in detail. He’s discovered there is no luck in the true random, lottery-winning sense but there is a sort of luck that can result from skills we all possess. Essentially it comes down to what I call being alive on the planet. If you’re aware of your surroundings, enjoying the people you come across, engaging with other people – not because you’re hoping to network with them in some self-serving way – you’re going to interact with more people than someone going through life with a cloud over his head or a book clutched in his hand. If you’re interested in people as people – and not for what benefit they can afford you – you’re going to know a lot of people you keep in touch with. Each of these networks – forgive the use of that term – opens opportunities for encounters and referrals to the one person who can help you out. In other words, luck is a direct result of the number of interactions you have in any given week and the number of relationships you maintain over time.

So. If you pick a lottery number, it doesn’t matter whether you’re lucky or not. That’s a random thing and your luck is as good as the next guy’s. If you get on a plane and the plane goes down, it doesn’t matter whether you’re lucky or not. That’s a random thing and your luck is as good as the next guy’s insofar as whether the landing goes well or not. From there it’s a matter of your survival skills. But that’s another post…

Originally posted February 14, 2009 on The Witches of Agnesi


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