‘Luck’ is rarely credited for successes or failures. If someone said they went on a date but it went badly because of “bad luck” we would think them self-deluding. If Bill Gates said he made his fortune because of luck, we would think him immodestly modest. (Although the date may have had a bad mood turbulence and Gates wouldn’t be Gates without the fortune of a rare computer in his school.) Intellectual fashion at the level of thinking individuals—rather than theory—decries the notion of luck, for we consider ourselves the authors of our lives.
In psychologese those who do consider themselves the author of their life are said to retain an internal locus of control; those who consider themselves more of an actor are said to retain an external locus of control. Although the author theory is overstressed, neither is wholly correct since we do have an inner consciousness, but one embedded in a physical social world. A world where randomness, chance, and fortune (or luck) inevitably play a part—the way your brain has grown, your current neurochemicals, your postcode, and your past determine what opportunities are available to you and how your consciousness even directs itself. Luck, then, does play an inevitable part even if we would prefer total control. A fact consoling to those who would consider themselves failures or losers, in a game where the playing-field (life) is always, and always was, uneven.
Think about it: you could put your mind to becoming a composer like Mozart or dating Jensen Ackles. The role of luck becomes clear because a brain and circumstances (the olden days, perfect pitch, an obsessive music teacher father) made Mozart; Jensen Ackles would—let’s be honest—not give me or even you a second glance (his body is too attractive and, he is, unfortunately, already married).
I say this because one of the easiest ways to become luckier is to accept the role of fate. Studies of the religious show they do tend to report happier feelings because they believe they were meant to live as they do; and that God is always on their side. Believing in fortune makes them happier which is the luckiest one can be. Accepting determinism and the unexplainable part of determinism—we call it chance or luck—can have you be happier.
That consolation over, however, how does one become ‘really’ luckier? Those with an internal locus of control, even though they are less happy or satisfied with it, achieve more. In his book Luck Factor, Professor Richard Wiseman explains how he studied luck and confirmed it is down to the number of opportunities that present themselves by constantly trying new things and socialising with new people.
Taking little investments in a diversity of activities and connecting disparate parts makes for novel combinations: network science has shown this works for cities innovating more, to synthesising truly new music genres. And you can use it to not just be more creative but to create good luck.
Getting luckier is a little analogous to getting ‘lucky’ on a night out or being an effective insurance salesperson. Optimists, extroverts, and even narcissists are luckier because when they fail they indifferently just move on to the next chance, customer, or opportunity with the resilience—or helpful delusion—that they may be off-putting and the odds may be against them, but by re-playing, eventually, they will win a newer prize. What most predicts success is showing up and trying time again.
In fact, being luckier means being outgoing and actually having more bad stuff happen for the sake of more good stuff also. Lucky people though are so optimistic, extroverted, or even narcissistic that they shirk off the bad stuff as bad luck, and credit the good stuff as their personality. (We sometimes regret most what we did not do, more than what we did.) As American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”
Professor Wiseman even created a Luck School where those who considered themselves lucky were imitated by the unlucky, and by the end 80% of graduates – 800 out of a 1000 – felt luckier and happier. (You may rejoinder ‘placebo!’, but a psychological effect is just that: placebo).
Optimistic, extroverted, to even persistent narcissistic behaviour precedes more luck. (The latter only in short-term, although the short term is what narcissists mostly want.) To be luckier go out more to places where you can network or better hone your skills with social pressures.
The social milieu also raises luck. Hence your family postcode can predict—quite accurately—your chances of making it onto Wikipedia. Hence Oxbridge and LSE graduates earn more even controlling for the subject of study, not merely because they are more capable but because they are more connected and self-assured.
Connections and ability work in a positive feedback loop: more money to more money, more qualification to more qualification, confidence to confidence, prestige to prestigious opportunity and an intelligent and hardworking network amplifies intelligence and hard-work—and nepotistic similarity—the most. Such amplification makes intuitive sense and is hardly a discovery of social-science: the gospel of Matthew is the moniker for the social mirroring or doubling-effect.
Getting luckier can be a tedious matter of rejection and trying again, perseverance, and simple geography of moving to where more opportunities are and to an easier, conducive, space where you are more likely to benefit from screened-out focus, nepotism and a group to amplify what you are talented in.
Getting luckier, then, is practising being overconfident (rather than a narcissistic bastard), optimistic and extroverted, and aligning oneself with a proper pond for the particular fish you are fond of and the fish you would like to become.
Easier said than done, but a luckier person (or fish to use too much metaphor) would never let that stop them.
As the serenity prayer enshrined by The Recovery Movement says, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can—and the wisdom to know the difference”.