Is There Such a Thing as 'Being Lucky'?

No, but there's a catch...

Many people think that luck is like a quality somebody has. For example my aunt thinks she keeps on loosing at backgammon because she is unlucky and this influences somehow the dice. I tried to explain her that it's not the dice's fault, it's the fact she's such a lousy player, but with no avail.

However, in a certain sense, luck is a property; people feeling lucky have a certain state of mind that may help them in various situations. Luck may be another name for the fact that some people unconsciously make better choices than others. To explore issue of luck scientifically, experimental psychologist Richard Wiseman created a "luck lab" at the University of Hertfordshire in England.

He began by testing the paranormal concept of luck, like my aunt's. He gave 700 subjects a questionnaire to determine whether they felt lucky or unlucky and it turned out that some people felt twice more confident than others they could win the lottery. However, when these people actually bought lottery tickets, it turned out that there was no difference between them in term of actual winnings. Lucky people aren't more likely to win at gambling.

Then Wiseman turned to the psychological and social effects of feeling lucky. Are self-characterized "lucky" people more likely to encounter various advantages in life or is it that their over-optimism often leads them astray?

When he tested the participants to see how satisfied they are with their family life, personal life, financial situation, health and career he found a stark difference between "lucky" people and the rest: "Lucky people are far more satisfied with all areas of their lives than unlucky or neutral people," wrote Wiseman in his book The Luck Factor. The feelings of satisfaction are not determined exclusively by the actual material situation, they are more a consequence of how the individual interprets his or her situation. And people who think of themselves as lucky tend to interpret their lives positively; they expect good things to happen so when things are actually happening their attention focuses on the positive aspects.

Weiseman also tested the correlation between feeling lucky and other psychological characteristics such as "agreeableness," "conscientiousness," "extroversion," "neuroticism" and "openness." He found that lucky people are not friendlier than the rest nor are they less careful. However, they tend to be more extraverted and acting like "social magnets", less anxious, and more open to new experiences. "They don't tend to be bound by convention and they like the notion of unpredictability," Weiseman wrote.

So, although randomness doesn't and cannot a priori favor anyone and no one can have any special personal relation with it, people who delude themselves that they have such a special relation, often end up happier than the rest.


By    30 Mar 2006, 09:44 GMT