Picture the scenario:
You pull up to deserted T-junction in your brand new Mini Cooper. After a cursory glance in each direction, there doesn’t seem to be anything there. But then again, you’ve driven this way hundreds of times and nothings ever there. You slowly ease into the middle of the junction. Suddenly the glint of another car’s windshield enters your peripheral vision. There’s a screech of tortured rubber but it’s too late. Time goes into slow motion as the two vehicles approach at what seems a glacial speed. Everything goes black. When you open your eyes again, the world is full of twisted metal. Your head feels like the morning after a heavy night with Orsen Welles and there’s smoke rising from under the hood. You’re battered and bruised, but alive. What’s the first thing that goes through your head?
- I’m fortunate to be alive
- I can’t believe I was hit. Typical.
- That never going to buff out
This scenario is simple assessment of a person’s perception of how lucky they are. If number 1 was your choice, you probably consider yourself lucky. Good for you. Whereas if number 2 was your answer, you’re at the other end of the spectrum and consider yourself unlucky. As it turns out, your perception of how lucky you are can impact your general satisfaction with life. By the by, if number 3 was your choice, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and put that down to concussion.
A couple of years ago, the mentalist and illusionist Derren Brown televised an experiment investigating the perception of luck. They identified one self-professed unlucky individual and unbeknownst to him, put him through a battery of tests. In the first, they planted a scratch card that would have won him a TV, which he promptly threw away. He then missed the chance to win £25 from questionnaire which he could have answered in is his sleep, and then walked straight past a £50 note they placed on the sidewalk in front of him. In one final attempt, he was put in a situation where if he helped a stranger with a flat tire, it would have led to a ‘chance’ meeting with famous comedian, which he passed on. In contrast, the local landlord who was a self-professed lucky person stopped to help and was rewarded with a stand-up comedy session in her pub, a packed house, and presumably a good night for the bank balance.
While this is only anecdotal, there is evidence to suggest that the perception of luck may have wide ranging impact on people’s lives. Research from the University of Hertfordshire suggests that people who consider themselves lucky are more outgoing and open to new experiences. They also tend to see the bright side of bad encounters. Additionally, findings from the University of Leicester found that the belief in being lucky shares a positive correlation with optimism and a negative relationship with depression and anxiety. Moreover, they are more likely to persist at challenging tasks. As a result of all these characteristics, they often seize more opportunities that are thrown their way. In addition, if everything does go pear shaped, they are more likely to simply brush it off.
Similar effects have been seen with people that have lucky objects, whether it be a ring, or even an item of clothing. For example, it has been reported that Michael Jordan wore his lucky University of North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform throughout the course of his incredibly successful career. Whether this had any effect is obviously up for debate. But there is some evidence to suggest that having an item which you believe to be lucky may improve performance in difficult tasks. Interestingly, this means that simply increasing the accessibility to luck related concepts by, for example, giving someone an item that they’ve been told is lucky, could potentially reduce the perception of risk and induce a positive effect. So, if someone offers you a lucky trinket, just take it.
In the end, it seems that the very belief in luck may be a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you think you’ll be lucky and surround yourself with lucky items, some of that might just rub off. So basically, you make your own luck.