Luck has been the source of fierce debate for a good number of years. There are those who believe that all our actions are predetermined and, as a result, there is no such thing as luck. Conversely, there is a school of though that suggests that we are all at the whims and mercies of the Fates and cannot influence what does or doesn’t come our way.
Somewhere in the middle, there are those who believe that the energies we generate can have a positive or negative effect on our own circumstances and this is, in essence, the way we make our own luck. This argument falls into further debates as some purport that it is only those with sensitive psychic abilities who are able to tune into the forces around us and turn negative into positive. However, science has also thrown its hat into the ring on this one and has come up with an explanation that should satisfy everybody!
Experiments in Luck
Richard Wiseman is the Professor of the Public Perception of Psychology at Hertfordshire University. He began his career as a magician, before turning his attentions to the critical analysis and debunking of unusual phenomena, including the paranormal. One of his projects was to study the principles of good and bad luck. Wiseman conducted his study of a period of eight years and emerged with measurable results.
To begin with, Wiseman placed adverts in national newspapers looking for people who felt that they were either consistently lucky or unlucky. Over the eight years in which he conducted the research, Wiseman saw over 400 people, the youngest being 18 years-old and the oldest being 84. At regular intervals, Wiseman repeatedly interviewed the respondents and asked them to keep diaries, undertake questionnaires and intelligence tests and to take part in controlled experiments.
The lucky and the unlucky
Typical of the ‘lucky group’ were people like Jessica, aged 42. She said that “I have my dream job, two wonderful children and a great guy whom I love very much. It’s amazing; when I look back at my life, I realise that I have been lucky in just about every area.” Conversely, people like Carolyn, aged 34, were typical of the ‘unlucky group.’ Carolyn believed that she was unlucky in love, felt she was always “in the wrong place at the wrong time” and appeared to be startlingly accident-prone. In just one week she twisted her ankle in a pothole, injured her back in a separate fall and reversed her car into a tree during a driving lesson.
Wiseman’s experiments lead him to believe that ‘lucky’ people were simply more adept at spotting opportunities than others. In one test, he gave both the lucky and unlucky subjects an identical newspaper and asked them to count how many photographs were in it. On the second page, he had inserted a message in a type-face more than two inches high and covering over half the page itself. It read: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” Those who defined themselves as lucky tended to spot this in seconds and announce the answer, whilst those who defined themselves as unlucky tended to miss it and spend minutes, looking for photographs. As a further test, he also hid a second message in the newspaper, reading “Stop counting. Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250.” Once again, the lucky people saw it, while the unlucky ones didn’t.
The power of relaxation
Wiseman also examined the results of personality tests to further his research. Tests seemed to indicate that the unlucky people were generally more tense or anxious than the lucky ones, and science has found that anxiety negatively impacts on a person’s ability to notice the unexpected. In a further experiment, Wiseman asked both sets of participants to watch a moving dot in the centre of a computer screen. Without warning, other dots were flashed at the edges of the screen, which most of the participants noticed.
To study the effects of anxiety, Wiseman repeated the experiment, offering a large sum of money to those who were able to watch the central dot most accurately, thereby increasing the levels of tension involved. More than 30% of the unlucky people missed the flashing dots at the edges. As Dr Wiseman put it: “the more they looked, the less they saw.”
After eight years of interviews and experiments, Wiseman came to the conclusion that “unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties looking for their perfect partner and so miss the opportunity to make good friends… Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for.”
The principles of good luck
Dr Wiseman went through his results to uncover what he believes to be the four basic principles of good luck. The first is to expect good fortune, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Secondly, maximise your chances of something good happening by noticing and acting upon chance opportunities. Thirdly, you should listen to your ‘gut feelings’ and hunches about people and opportunities. Lastly, learn to cope with ‘bad luck’ by turning it around and seeing how it could have been much worse or deciding what can be done about the problem.
Wiseman has gone even further and opened a ‘Luck School,’ where he teaches the principles of changing your luck. Around 70 people have been through the school for the month-long course. He estimates that he has an 80% success rate. In summing up his research and his findings, Dr Wiseman said: “Not everything is under control. But a lot more of it is about your way of thinking and behaving. I don’t think there are any quick fixes. You can’t just say ‘cheer up.’ The whole thing is about looking at living in different ways.”
While there may still be those who argue about the inclusion of psychic abilities, it seems that, for the rest of us, Wiseman’s findings mean that we are all capable of turning our lives around, if we are prepared to embrace a new mindset.