Can one learn to be lucky? Is luck being the right place at the right time, or an openness to experience of all kinds? Is luck more attitude than accident? For some people, luck amounts to a mindset: they have come to a place where everything is luck, meaning they have a very expansive definition of what luck is.
As I write this the chorus of a Hamilton (musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda) song, “That would be enough” keeps replaying in my head:
“Look around, look around
At how lucky we are
To be alive right now
Look around, look around
Look at where you are
Look at where you started
The fact that you’re alive is a miracle
Just stay alive, that would be enough”
Just being alive is lucky. My teacher in India used to say just the fact of being alive in a human incarnation was luck enough. Maybe luck is not binary, with the haves and have-nots, but a fluid spectrum we all have a place in.
Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire who researches luck and is the author of Luck Factor, says “What the work shows as a whole is that people can change their luck. Luck is not something paranormal in nature. It’s something that we are creating by our thoughts and behavior.”
Here are four habits experts have identified that can set us all up for some serious serendipity.
1. Openness to experience: Luck may have many guises
What does “open-minded actually mean? It may come down to an inclusivity of thinking, a more expansive way of processing information. According to personality experts, research shows that open-minded people may literally see the world differently from the average person—with more curiosity and creativity. Dorie Clark, author of the book Stand Out, says that lucky people are more likely to approach others without expecting anything in return. The openness to enter other worlds with curiosity and compassion requires a certain humility that all lucky people seem to possess, she says.
2. Kindness to oneself: Luck as an attitude of gratitude
If you don’t beat yourself up for every failure, disappointment or misstep, that itself is a form of luck. Luck can signify an inner shift you make in yourself toward embracing the whole of experience. The more present you can be with reality, with what is, the greater your fortune. Then you don’t even need luck to be lucky. As the Buddhist teacher and author Pema Chodron says, “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for joy.”
Rumi described disappointment as an opportunity for a deeper perspective:
“The feeling of joy
when sudden disappointment comes.
The eagle carries off Muhammed’s boot
and saves him from snakebite.
Don’t grieve for what doesn’t come.
Some things that don’t happen
keep disasters from happening.”
If you could manage to feel a dollop of joy with every serving of disappointment, you would feel like the luckiest person alive.
3. The growth mindset: The opposite of luck is not failure
A lot of people equate luck with success, but luck might have a lot more in common with failure. Lucky people recognize that magic happens when you step outside your comfort zone and are able to take calculated risks. They know that failure is an option—the outcome may not go their way but there will be some nugget of learning. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls the effort to try and willingness to fail a growth mindset.
As Chodron says, “The next time there’s no ground to stand on, don’t consider it an obstacle. Consider it a remarkable stroke of luck.” Wiseman found that luck was more fluid than static, more verb than noun: “Lucky people create, notice and act upon the chance opportunities in their lives. Lucky people just try stuff. Unlucky people suffered from paralysis by analysis.” So if you want to find good fortune, you have to make yourself easy to find. Put yourself out there. Be willing, even eager, to fail. Break routine. Start small. Say yes to whatever excites your spirit. As the saying goes, “You only regret the things you do not do.”
4. Follow your intuition: The luck of the gut
Wiseman found that people who considered themselves lucky were more apt to act on their hunches. He wrote in the Luck Factor: “Almost 90 percent of lucky people said that they trusted their intuition when it came to personal relationships, and almost 80 percent said it played a vital role in their career choices.” He defines intuition as being able to detect a pattern that you haven’t consciously seen—and being willing to trust it. But when unlucky people got those feelings, he says, “they didn’t follow them because they didn’t know where they came from. They were anxious about the world.”
One of the best ways to boost your intuition is by quieting the mind’s chatter. You can do this by many forms of exercise as well as yoga and meditation. In quieting the mind, you increase your receptivity to being part of larger pattern at play, one that we can’t understand linearly but that resonates on deeper levels of being.