How did they become the lucky ones

We generally think of good luck as the accident of creation. Of course, to some extent it is. Luck or (depending on your beliefs) serendipity may explain why you almost ran into an airport closing or got the last cab in a rainstorm.

But many of the things in life that we think are “lucky” are not so much chance. Instead, it’s directly related to our behavior and the worldview we believe in. After all, you have to buy a lottery ticket to win the jackpot, right? As businessman Bob Miglani has said.

I’ve met many successful people – from longtime couples, to successful professional women, to billionaires, to people who have no family but are very happy – who are “lucky” because they think outside the box and do something about it.

Yes, research shows that people who think they are lucky behave differently from those who think they are unlucky. Dr. Richard Wiseman, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and author of “The Luck Factor,” studied the behavior of people who considered themselves lucky and unlucky in a 10-year experiment in which they both answered a newspaper ad for a job. Not only did the lucky and unlucky people face life in significantly different ways, but the unlucky people also benefited from the behavior of the lucky people and learned to face life. In other words, luck is not a set direction in life, but a perspective that can be changed through personal adjustment.

There are four ways in which we can all use the power of the so-called “lucky” people.

Strive for the best

“Time is relentless,” writes psychiatrist Mark Banschick in Psychology Today. Lucky people make the most of their time and don’t miss out on opportunities by vowing to get started tomorrow. They dabble in social activities, even when they don’t feel like it. They write emails now, rather than putting them off until later.

As Bangschik says, “Things are never, ever done again if they’re not done now. There may be similar opportunities in the future, but not this one – and you are no longer the same version of yourself. Time will change us.”

Consider yourself lucky

People who consider themselves lucky are more optimistic and cheerful when dealing with problems. Thus, they are better at seeing life’s twists and turns as pleasant surprises. Weissman describes unlucky guys who have learned to act like lucky people in Reader’s Digest this way: “Eighty percent were happier and more satisfied with their lives – and more lucky. One unlucky subject said she adjusted her attitude – expecting good luck and not thinking about bad luck – and her bad luck disappeared.”

Luck and chance don’t mix

Financial strategist Michael Mauboussin told Wired magazine, “People often use the words luck and chance confusingly. I like to think of chance as something that’s at the systemic level, whereas luck is at the individual level. If I call 100 people to guess the outcome of a coin toss, by the law of chance, a handful of people will get it right five times in a row. If you happen to be one of those people who guesses correctly five times in a row, that’s your luck.”

That’s the way it is, and it’s important not to treat unfavorable chance as a meaningful, regular piece of bad luck. Lucky people don’t seem to notice the bad things that happen to them – and certainly don’t think so.

Focused attention

Part of Wiseman’s research included the habits of lucky people, and he found that people who consider themselves lucky are more perceptive than those who consider themselves unlucky. He describes one of these experiments.

I gave both the lucky and unlucky people a newspaper and asked them to browse through it and tell me how many pictures were in it. On average, the unlucky person took about two minutes to count the photos, while the lucky person took less than a minute. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper had the message, “Stop counting, there are 43 photos in this paper.” This message took up half the page and the font was larger than 2 inches. How striking the message is, but unlucky people often miss it and lucky people often see it.

Why? Wiseman explains that the reason for this difference lies in the indirect effects of anxiety. The so-called unlucky people tend to be more anxious, and anxiety is associated with difficulty in concentrating – especially when it comes to unexpected situations.