Lucky charms and superstitions have been part of our lives for Millennia. Despite science and spiritual belief moving on, our loyalty to the concept of luck remains. While we might criticise ourselves for an over-reliance on outside forces, a belief in luck might also give us the courage to take greater chances than we might otherwise.
The opportunity to risk
Luck is an interesting component in our understanding of risk and change. For instance, one day we might be mugged and consider this bad luck. However, in reality, we would have weighed up the risk of walking down an unknown street in the early evening and considered it safe. It happened, this time, that a chance event made that risk turn out negatively. You might not consciously weigh up risks in this way, but you are at all times assessing your decisions for whether they will turn out well or not.
Whether luck is a part of this is hard to assess. If we are having a day when good things come together or there is a series of negative events, it might be easy to justify this with luck. However, believing that you have more chance of winning the lottery on a day that feels lucky is harder to justify. The mathematical probability of you winning doesn’t change because you have had a few positive experiences on a day.
Luck breeds luck
However, there is something about the mindset that feeds into the idea of luck. If you feel lucky, you will look for events to fulfil your beliefs. Equally, if you think that things are going against you, then you can compose interpretations of events to support this.
There was a Belief in Good Luck scale developed in 1997 by two Canadian Psychologists. The scale does exactly what it suggests, it measures how much you believe in luck and how much you think luck influences events in your favour. Where you might think that luck is random and unreliable, others might believe that they can control luck through their routines and possessions.
You might believe that belief in luck has something to do with self-esteem and satisfaction with life. However, the BIGL scale proved this wrong. However, there were some links between optimism and belief in good luck and note that this makes them more confident.
Therefore, believing that one’s success is down to good luck can lead to attempts to control it. Proof of this is evident in professional sports, where competitors have lucky shirts or a lucky meal, which directly influenced their win.
The psychology of luck
In reality, what is happening here is a competition between the head and the gut. Our head will run complex risk analysis and work out our odds of a positive outcome. Then, there is our gut, which gives us a feeling if something is right or not. When we are about to walk down a lonely road in the twilight, we turn to our intuition to tell us if it feels safe or not. We might cross our fingers to support our intuition, but essentially, we are trusting our gut.
We might dismiss this as unhelpful and trite. We might see luck as something we can play with, but we don’t take it that seriously. However, luck can have a positive psychological function in our daily life. If we look at luck, we can cope with chance events better – but it down to events outside our control.
So, what is luck anyway?
This exploration of luck shows us one thing – it is challenging defining exactly what lick is and we are all likely using different meanings. We could easily say that luck is when the outcome of a chance event is favourable to the person. The main element seems to be a chance event. Everything that happened about this chance event could be defined as good luck or bad luck depending on the outcome.
However, the event would need to feel unpredictable or outside the control of the individual. You could also argue that the outcome was thought to be unlikely and have a substantial impact on the individual.
Yet, there is then luck that is superstition where we worry that certain events will damn us – like a broken mirror. Or, there are those superstitions that act like a talisman, where we can impact on future events. Then there is the luck we ascribe after the event. This retrospective luck is the idea that we played no part without skill and talent, it just worked out or not. We use words like a windfall, a coincidence, or an accident. We might even decide it is a fluke or an anomaly. The events have merely not worked out as we would have predicted.
Mistaking luck with opportunity
One of the major issues for people who look at other people’s success is mistaking a seized opportunity with luck. The phrase “being in the right place at the right time” suggests that anyone in that place would have had the same outcome. However, in all likelihood, the reason the person is in that place is that they have worked hard to construct the opportunity. They have written the email, made the call, took the train to be there – and were available when the finger pointed in their direction.
The truth is that lucky people create and notice opportunities when they arrive. A lucky person will make successful decisions using that gut feeling we spoke about earlier. They also had a dream that they could envision and then work towards it – and when bad luck hits – they can rebound from it more successfully. We, therefore, need to be careful with labelling, as none of this sounds like luck.
But, who cares. Throughout this muddle of ideas about what is and isn’t luck is the underlying truth. If we feel we are lucky then we feel better – so let’s embrace the wonder of good luck and all its charms.