“The Luck Factor” by Richard Wiseman, in
class="text31">Skeptical Inquirer (May–June
2003), P.O. Box 703, Amherst, N.Y. 14226–9973.
Some people seem to be born lucky, while others never
catch a break. Ten years ago, Wiseman, a psychologist at the
University of Hertfordshire, England, decided to investigate
whether that’s so. His finding: People largely make their own luck,
good or bad.
He rounded up 400 volunteers, people who considered
themselves either exceptionally favored by fortune or exceptionally not.
Then he poked and prodded, subjecting them to interviews, personality
quizzes, intelligence tests, and various experiments. “My
research revealed that lucky people generate their own good fortune via
four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance
opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create
self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient
attitude that transforms bad luck into good.”
Consider those “chance opportunities.” In
one experiment, Wiseman asked his subjects to count the number of photos in
a newspaper. Some finished the job in seconds, but others took, on average,
about two minutes. Why the difference? Page two of the newspaper bore a
message in large type: “Stop counting—There are 43 photographs
in this newspaper.” The lucky ones noticed. The unlucky ones,
generally tense and anxious sorts, were so intent on counting that they
tended to miss the message.
Into every life, of course, some rain must fall. But
the lucky and the unlucky generally react differently when it
does. In one experiment, Wiseman asked his subjects to imagine how
each of them would feel if he or she were shot in the arm by a robber
while waiting in line at a bank. The unlucky bemoaned their fate:
“It’s just my bad luck to have been in the bank
class="text21">then.” The lucky had a different reaction:
“Things could have been a lot worse; I might have been shot in the
head.” That sort of positive attitude among the lucky, says Wiseman,
“helps keep their expectations about the future high,” and
makes a continued lucky life more likely.
But the ill-starred need not fear that all is lost.
Wiseman explained “the four main principles of luck” to a group
of volunteers who then went off for a month to put the principles into
practice. On their return, he says, 80 percent reported that they
“were now happier, more satisfied with their lives, and, perhaps most
important of all, luckier.” A fortunate outcome, indeed! (Knock on