We all know her. Our friend who just so happened to be at the right place at the perfect time. The one who snagged that incredible discount—all while avoiding red lights along the way. Whether she routinely wins raffles, triumphs at work, or seems to have great luck in the dating scene, there’s just something about her that screams sunshine, pots of gold, and bright green four leaf clovers.
Notably, some of my friends seem to exude this kind of luck more than others. Do they have some sort of superstitious ritual that aligns the stars or is it simply genetic? When I think about their behavior though, I’ve realized that their luck derives less from magic, and more from pragmatism. Their habits are fundamentally different than your average Joe, often going in the face of logic.
Psychologist Dr. Richard Wiseman professor and author of The Luck Factor: The Four Essential Principles, places “luck” under scientific analysis and examines the behavior of lucky people vs. not-so-lucky people. Interestingly, according to him, mastering the ways to tap into your inner “luck” isn’t too difficult—but it does involve practice and rebuilding certain luck-inducing habits. However, it’s worth noting that his findings sometimes contrast the typical advice we’re given to achieve “success.”
01. Lucky people chill out.
Being a focused, hard worker is great, but sometimes people put blinders on, putting themselves out of a “lucky” position. According to Richard Wiseman, lucky people are relaxed and open. They are skilled at creating, noticing, and acting upon potential opportunities. The typical hustle and bustle business culture seems to believe that single-minded pursuits can conquer all (“I make my own luck!”) and that hard work alone can plow through anything. Rather, we should work hard and have a more open, go-with-the-flow kind of attitude to see "lucky" opportunities.
In an interview with Fast Company from several years ago, Wiseman explains:
“This is one of the most counterintuitive ideas. We are traditionally taught to be really focused, really driven, to try really hard at tasks. But in the real world, you’ve got opportunities all around you—and if you’re driven in one direction, you’re not going to spot the others. It’s about getting people to have various game plans running in their head.”
He then describes a scene that I find all-too-familiar. A person goes to a party with one goal: to find their one true love. A lot of hope and hype is injected into the situation, and—as odds would have it—they end up failing to find their one-and-only. On the other hand, a luck-oriented person wouldn’t approach a party with such single-mindedness. Instead, they would choose to relax, be open, and simply meet people. Maybe from there, they can meet their one-true-love, but it’s not at the forefront of their mind. At their core, they’re less idealistic, and more opportunistic. They adapt to what’s going on in their situation, which opens them up to the opportunities that exist right in front of them—not in their mind.
02. Lucky people know how to listen to their gut.
Lucky people know themselves, listen to themselves, and, ultimately, trust themselves. This means putting aside logical reasoning and following those pesky gut feelings. Wiseman describes this lucky principle as the ability to “listen to those lucky hunches.” In one survey, Wiseman shared that almost 90 percent of those deemed “lucky” said that they trusted their intuition when it came to their relationships, and 80 percent of them said that same intuition was involved in their career choices.
This is strikingly different from the results of those considered “unlucky.” Less than 20 percent of them said that trusting their gut influenced their decisions in relationships and career.
Those lucky hunches are more than a mere “in the moment” feeling Wiseman acknowledges. While lucky people honor their feelings and make decisions based upon intuition, they begin by taking steps to enhance their intuitive abilities, which helps inhibit fears. For instance, lucky people use meditation, praying, or simply clearing their mind from other thoughts, or petty fears to help make a decision. In other words, there’s a difference between following your intuition vs. following your (more fleeting) feelings.
03. Lucky people are optimistic—and expect the best.
Ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy? I certainly have—and not in a good way! When I find myself in my most insecure, frazzled, and relentlessly self-defensive moods, I often channel my brain to “expect the worst,” in hopes of being pleasantly surprised. While this theory might occasionally work, it’s a terrible habit to get into. You’ll begin finding your mind already scanning for the worst—causing one to assume the worst—as the event unfolds.
In contrast, by “expecting the best,” we train our brains to see the best. When we expect good things to happen to us, we’re more inclined to relax, be open, and take in new experiences—which ultimately leads to taking risks. Being astutely risk-averse is a natural human inclination (fire safety is a good thing!), but refusing to take any kind of chance is ultimately a pessimistic way to live one’s life and doesn’t yield those favorable it-just-happened-to-me results.
04. Lucky people respond to bad situations with grace and gratefulness.
Sure—objectively bad things happen to everyone. However, Wiseman describes that those who choose to be lucky look at those same “bad things” very differently than those who describe themselves as routinely unlucky. He shares this scenario:
“Unlucky people say, ‘I can't believe I've been in another car accident.’ Lucky people go, ‘Wonderful. Yes, I had a car accident, but I wasn't killed.’”
Simply put: it boils down to what you decide to focus on. Choosing your reactions becomes habitual. “What’s interesting is that both ways of thinking are unconscious and automatic,” shares Wiseman. “It would never occur to the unlucky people to see it a different way.”
I had a friend—let’s call her Patricia (in honor of St. Patty’s Day)—who had some rough medical issues that were extremely unlikely (statistically) and extremely scary. She had every reason to say she had “bad luck.” But instead of wallowing in self-pity, she focused on the things that brought her joy: the people that surrounded her, a carton of fresh strawberries, or long drives through the city with the right music. She saw her experience as an opportunity. She wholly believes that life would continue to bring her joy and beauty.
Wiseman’s research found four psychological techniques that lucky people used to flip their luck:
- They see the positives that this “bad” event brought, even if it was just a lesson.
- They wholeheartedly believe that poor fortune will turn—that it won’t last forever, and that they’re never ill-fated, or “stuck” with bad luck.
- They do not not dwell in unlucky things that have taken place in the past.
- They proactively adapt to change their ways to prevent bad things from happening again.
There’s a myriad ways you can look at luck. It’s one of the most ancient, yet most intangible concepts that describes human experiences. While no one can really predict the future, we can foster the way we react to the events the future brings—which can make all the difference how we navigate life’s complexities. Meanwhile, I hear wearing green can help? Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and may we all learn to see our luck!
Photo Credit: Andrea Rose Photography