How To Bring More Luck Into Your Life, According To Psychology

by JR Thorpe

If you happen to think of yourself as a "lucky" person — always picking up money off the ground, discovering secret bars, and getting invited to parties that turn out to involve achingly cool celebrities — it turns out that the universe might not be rolling the dice in your favor. So if you're wondering if there's a method to how to be more lucky in life, an increasing amount of evidence suggests that luck is about psychology and attention rather than random chance.

Obviously, in settings like casinos or actual dice-rolling, the outcome is truly random and there's not much your own approach can do to help you out. But in other areas, researcher and Professor Richard Wiseman tells The Telegraph that luck is actually a matter of attitude: if you possess the right characteristics and do the right things, you'll find more rewards and "luck" than people who don't. It's an odd thing to try to understand, because humans can be superstitious — even if you're a profoundly skeptical person, chances are pretty strong that you come from a long line of people who've kissed amulets, worshipped gods of fate, or carried charms to help them survive. According to New Scientist, scientists believe that superstition was a survival instinct that occasionally helped humans throughout history, keeping us away from diseased or threatening things and making us aware of the world around us. And luck, it turns out, is often a matter of perspective.

Wiseman did a now-famous study in 2003 that assessed the skills and attention of people who either conceived of themselves as lucky or unlucky. Chances are that you know both: somebody who always seems to win office sweepstakes, and somebody else who can't catch a break without falling over it. "Unlucky" people, Wiseman says, don't tend to take notice of things that might offer unexpected good fortune. When both "lucky" and "unlucky" participants were asked to count the number of photographs in a newspaper, "lucky" people were much more likely to notice a large sign early in the paper that told them to stop counting — and another that informed them they'd won $250. "Unlucky" people were too focused to notice. Lesson: paying more attention to your surroundings, including potentially irrelevant details, is more likely to bring you luck.

Wiseman has since outlined four psychological "principles" that appear to govern lucky lives. Number one is the lesson about picking up on details; number two is paying attention to your gut, because your "hunch" may be based on something deeper than just random intuition. Number three is the expectation of good luck, which means that "lucky" people are more optimistic and persistent — and therefore succeed more, because they pursue more opportunities. And number four is being positive about bad luck, including the ability to find good fortune even when things are going badly. It's all a matter of approach and good psychological habits.

You can add "having a lucky object" to that arsenal, too. According to a 2010 study, people who thought a talisman brought them luck or made them better at a skill performed better at a task when they had it with them. It's a confidence-booster, and we react well when we believe in ourselves. And when we perform well, we receive heightened self-belief, so it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. The downside: if you lose the talisman, you may feel like your luck has abandoned you, even though — plot twist! — it was just you all along.

Studies on luck in numerical contexts, like gambling, have also found that it's largely an illusion — but one grounded in our neurology. Humans are always predisposed to look for patterns, even in completely random formations. We find it quite hard to accept that something can be total chaos, so our brains try to find collections of patterns, particularly alternation: one black, one white, for example. This, according to a study in 2014, leads to a tendency to believe that our luck in card games will also alternate: that if we win, next time we play we're likely to lose, and vice versa.

If we win a game of chance, we're often cautious afterwards because we think things will "even out", meaning that we're more cautious and therefore less likely to lose big. If we lose, though, we think we're due to win, so we splash out and make big bets. The result? People who win keep winning because they play safe, while people who lose can keep losing because they're risking too much.

A fascinating study published in early 2018 illustrates just how powerful luck can be when it comes to success. According to Scientific American, scientists set up a hypothetical world, programmed certain individuals in its population to have characteristics that we know lead to luck (self-confidence, optimism, attention to detail and the rest), and exposed the entire population to a set of different "events" that were either lucky or unlucky. Everybody in the population had a certain amount of "talent" given to them, too — about the same spread as you'd see in a normal country.

The result of the simulation, which lasted 40 "years" was startling: the people with lucky characteristics ended up with the lion's share of the success. Even if they were less "talented" than other people in the simulation, their luck carried them through. Smarts and gifts weren't enough — they also had to have the ability to turn bad fortune into good, and notice windfalls when they popped up.

If you want to be successful, this is a big lesson. Don't rely on pure talent: you also need to set yourself up to be lucky, by cultivating characteristics that make the most of any situation, keep you persistent, and mean you're more likely to encounter good fortune. Luck, it turns out, is often psychological, and that means it's a game we might actually win.