Why Are Some People Lucky?

Guest Contributor: Timberly Maddox

Throughout my life, I have always said that I was born under a lucky star. No matter what happens, things always seem to work out. Does this mean I am so lucky that I just sit back and wait for good things to happen to me? No. To create my own luck, I have to work hard, be open to opportunity, and look at the big picture. It also helps to keep a positive outlook, even when things don’t seem to be going as planned. There is a lot of research out there backing me up. And what the research finds, is that lucky people practice the following:

Lucky people listen to their gut

Listening to your gut can create lucky opportunities or help make seemingly lucky decisions. These decisions or opportunities may not seem lucky immediately, but they lead to opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible without that sequence of events. In hindsight, the decision or opportunity seems incredibly lucky or significant.

Listening to your gut a form of non-conscious thinking that is based on all of your past experiences and knowledge. (Side note: There is increasing scientific evidence that your gut actually plays a role.) This type of “thinking” happens very quickly and you may not understand all of the things that go into it. For example, imagine you are getting ready for an important interview and your impulse is to wear something brightly colored. Without thinking too hard about it, you put on a yellow blouse, nail the interview, and get a job offer. Did you do well because bright colors make you happy, which led to you being more upbeat and confident during the interview? Or was it because the interviewer really likes yellow? Both? Does it matter? The important thing is that you had a great interview that resulted in a job offer.

Lucky people are good at creating and noticing chance opportunities

Lucky people take risks and go outside of their comfort zone. This doesn’t mean that you should put yourself in an unsafe situation or take up an extreme sport like skydiving. You can leave your comfort zone by varying your routine and being open to new experiences. By occasionally getting out of your comfort zone, you open up the opportunity to meet different people and experience new things – leading to opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have had. Changing your routine and trying new things can also help you become less anxious in new situations. Anxiety can disrupt your ability to notice the unexpected – causing you to miss out on chance opportunities.

In one study, people were asked to look through a newspaper and count the number of photographs it contained. Lucky people completed the task in seconds, while unlucky people took two minutes on average. Why? On the second page of the newspaper, the researcher had placed a message that read: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” The message was written in a font that was more than two inches high and took up half the page. There was another large message placed halfway through the newspaper that said: “Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250.” Because the “unlucky” people were hyper-focused on counting the photographs, they tended to miss both messages, while the “lucky” people tended to spot the messages.

They create self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations

Because lucky people are more relaxed and open, they generally have a positive outlook. A positive outlook encourages them to try new things and persevere, because they expect it will turn out well.

There are a lot of studies that show optimism can increase luck. Such as this study that shows superstitions can increase performance, or this study that shows wishing someone luck can make them do better, or this series of studies that show overconfidence can increase productivity and teamwork. The one thing that all of these studies have in common, is that the subjects were optimistic about their chance of success, so they were able to persevere until the task was complete. This isn’t to say that you should completely abandon reality, but keeping a positive outlook and engaging in a little magical thinking can lead to greater life satisfaction.

Lucky people adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good luck

Even when “bad” things happen to lucky people, they are able to see the positive side of things and believe that – given enough time – everything will work out for the best. They don’t dwell on their bad luck, but they do take steps to prevent the same thing from happening in the future. With this type of thinking, the person focuses on the positives in any situation. In other words, they are able to find the “silver lining”.

My Takeaway

When I look back at events in my life that seem particularly lucky, I realize that they likely happened because I possess all of the above traits. I go into situations expecting the best, work hard to achieve my desired outcome, leave myself open to new opportunities, and change course when needed.

For example, when I was working on my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to graduate at the end of fall semester or take some classes I had always wanted to take and graduate in the spring. At the time, I decided to take the “fun” classes I had never been able to fit into my schedule and graduate in the spring. Then I noticed an advertisement for an internship at Disney World, which I could only do that spring. I decided to apply, because it seemed like a cool opportunity. My instinct told me that I could take a university course anytime and I figured the worst that could happen is that I wouldn’t get the internship.

In late November, I was accepted into the program as an intern for the Living Seas at Epcot. So two weeks before fall semester ended, I withdrew from all of my spring classes and applied for graduation. By Christmas, I was in Orlando, Florida and spent the next six months interning with one of the largest corporations in the world. While working there, I was able to visit all of the Disney parks for free, had the opportunity to swim with dolphins as part of my job, saw a space shuttle launch, and made some lifelong friends. None of this would have happened if I had stuck to my original plan of graduating in the spring.

Ok, that story does illustrate being open to opportunity, but maybe it is too easy to see the positive outcome. What about something that seems a bit more ambiguous? After working in the “real world” for a couple of years, I decided to go back to graduate school to earn my Master’s degree. After the initial newness wore off, I found that I was miserable. The work wasn’t difficult, it just didn’t interest me as much as I thought it would. About halfway through my program, I listened to my gut and dropped out. After meeting with my major advisor to deliver the news, I immediately felt lighter and more content. Was it a mistake to go back to graduate school? I don’t think so. If I hadn’t moved to go to grad school, I would have never met my husband.

I also wouldn’t have taken the classes that made it possible to work in a hospital lab as a medical scientist. Or to take the skills I learned at the hospital lab and turn them into a job in a veterinary lab as a microbiologist. These things were only possible because I had gone back to school. And all of these experiences have made me the happy, healthy, successful person that I am today.

All of the qualities that lucky people possess can be learned, as demonstrated by the research of psychologist Dr. Richard Wiseman. Instead of asking yourself “Why am I so unlucky?” practice Dr. Wiseman’s four tips to becoming lucky to change your perspective:

· Listen to your gut – it is normally right

· Be open to new experiences and breaking your routine

· Spend a few moments each day remember things that went well

· Visualize yourself being luck before and important event. Luck is often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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