Maybe Luck Isn’t A Random, Nebulous Thing After All

I think most of us consider “luck” to be something that’s fundamentally random and outside of our control. The Universe doles out good fortune unfairly and seemingly at random.

But what if the Universe is constantly hurling lucky breaks our way but we’re just too damn blind to notice? Maybe some of us aren’t “unlucky” so much as we are oblivious to opportunity.

There was an eccentric psychologist, Richard Wiseman, who ran some experiments back in the 90’s to test whether or not luck was related to mindset. In one experiment, he recruited people who identified as either “lucky” or “unlucky” and put a $20 bill in the street. 

In general, the self-proclaimed lucky people noticed the cash while the unlucky walked right by it.

Over the next ten years he ran a bunch of similar experiments, ultimately concluding that “luck is not a magical ability or the result of random chance….[people’s] thoughts and behavior are responsible for much of their fortune.”

Wiseman came to believe that there were four main ways people could create their own luck:

  • Become skilled at noticing chance opportunities
  • Make decisions by listening to intuition
  • Create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations
  • Adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good

Now some of those are admittedly vague, but it’s an interesting mental model. 

Maybe if we occasionally took off our blinders, we’d realize the Universe isn’t withholding as many opportunities as we thought. “Now that I think about it, didn’t x person mention they have a cousin in y industry that I’m interested in? I should ask for an intro…”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines luck as “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one's own actions.”

You’re not going to get far with that attitude, dictionary authors.


A quick caveat: I realize it’s possible to read the above and think, “this is some REPUBLICAN talk. Are you saying people in poverty have a mindset problem?” No. Clearly, some people receive (or don’t!) a baseline of fortune without any intervention on their part. But as you climb Maslow’s hierarchy, it seems that “luck” might become more self-deterministic.