The Secret
February 16, 2010 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good Those who think they're unlucky should change their outlook and discover how to generate good fortune, says Richard Wiseman (Via Lisa Hoover at Lifehacker)

This aspect of Prof Richard Wiseman's research explores why some people live charmed lives, and develops techniques that enable others to enhance their good fortune. The project began in 1994 and has involved hundreds of exceptionally lucky and unlucky people. These findings have been published in Prof Wiseman's bestselling book The Luck Factor. Current work examines how these ideas can be applied in organisational and business settings.

For additional information about this work, visit the links in the menu on the left (see Wiseman's website), and download this article from Skeptical Inquirer magazine. (144k, PDF)

Some of Prof Wiseman’s most recent work on creating new ideas and lucky opportunities is described in his book, Did You Spot the Gorilla?. Visit the ‘Gorilla’ page to read an article about this work from the Times.
posted by KokuRyu (130 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite

 
Isn't this basically "The Secret"?
posted by LSK at 1:30 PM on February 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


You missed my gorilla.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:31 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


You lucky Mefites! Here's the 'meat' without the filler:

In the wake of these studies, I think there are three easy techniques that can help to maximise good fortune:

* Unlucky people often fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches. Lucky people are interested in how they both think and feel about the various options, rather than simply looking at the rational side of the situation. I think this helps them because gut feelings act as an alarm bell - a reason to consider a decision carefully.

* Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives. For example, one person described how he thought of a colour before arriving at a party and then introduced himself to people wearing that colour. This kind of behaviour boosts the likelihood of chance opportunities by introducing variety.

* Lucky people tend to see the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse. In one interview, a lucky volunteer arrived with his leg in a plaster cast and described how he had fallen down a flight of stairs. I asked him whether he still felt lucky and he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before. As he pointed out, he could have broken his neck.


if see this, stop reading this thread and send me $250
posted by leotrotsky at 1:33 PM on February 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


This is not scientific. That is the nicest thing I can say.
posted by nola at 1:36 PM on February 16, 2010 [17 favorites]


This kind of behaviour boosts the likelihood of chance opportunities by introducing variety.
This, at least, seems to make sense. I mean, I can say I've been lucky to meeet some great folks via metafilter and other online venues, but it'd have been just as easy to not go looking for cool folks in the first place.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:40 PM on February 16, 2010


Hmmm. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most Mefites see themselves as "unlucky".
posted by LordSludge at 1:40 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


"A man may be a pessimistic determinist before lunch and an optimistic believer in the will's freedom after it." Huxley, Aldous

Or, it's easy to be optimistic when you're lucky - and being lucky creates more opportunity to be even luckier. People aren't comfortable with the idea of chaos or lack of free will (Friend got his start in portraiture on sheer accident, an art director saw his painting of Bob Dylan - he didn't like the painting but he loved Bob Dylan, so he hired him, how fucking random is that?) so when do get a little bit of success or given advantages people tend to rationalize it as part of some grand plan of there or some huge willpower they had or their attitude or whatever. Which is bullshit, I've seen it happen a lot (hello hysterically unstable art industry!) and while talent and motivation and so called "drive" play a huge part, no one likes the open the Pardora's box of sheer dumb luck or previous advantages or opportunities.

Which is a long way of saying this is dumb and The Secret is so fucking dumb I literally cannot form enough words to describe how much I hate it and I leave with Tocqueville's idea that any democracy without an aristocracy will produce amazing tension and insecurity among it's members, for without a visible and explicit class system to explain inequality the citizen will blame himself for his own misfortune and blame others for their own. (and so it is inferred, will always be seeking someone even worse off to hate -)
posted by The Whelk at 1:41 PM on February 16, 2010 [29 favorites]


cog sci is just plain weird
posted by infini at 1:41 PM on February 16, 2010


I am interested in how you control for the variables "unlucky" and "lucky."
posted by absalom at 1:42 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


So this is actually nothing like the Secret.

Richard Wiseman is an awesome skeptical researcher who is probably one of the most rigorous psychologists in his field. It's predictable, but sad, that we're so quick to dismiss his research because of a silly popcrap book that was released a few years ago.
posted by muddgirl at 1:42 PM on February 16, 2010 [15 favorites]


If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all!
posted by OmieWise at 1:42 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is one of the more ridiculous things I've seen on MeFi in a bit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:43 PM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


And P.S I am EXTREMELY AMAZINGLY Lucky in my life cause I could have *died* more than once and I have no idea why i didn't. I don't think this had anything to do with my own innate optimism or Will or whatever. It had to do with blind chance and maybe some quick thinking. Maybe.


I still keep my alter to Fortuna burning. It makes about as much sense as this and isn't aggressively annoying (Plus it has a cute lucky kitty statue!)
posted by The Whelk at 1:44 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am so lucky, I'm throwin' straight 20's all dungeon long!
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 1:44 PM on February 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


The listed 4 principles are all qualities found in people who have a fair amount of self-assurance and confidence already.

It's near impossible to get insecure, self-doubting people to successfully practice these principles, unless underlying issues are also dealt with. Nonetheless, they'll still line up with their $250 in the hopes that a weekend seminar from a beautiful charismatic person will somehow turn everything around.

I've been on both sides of this. The confident side IS much luckier, thanks for asking.
posted by Artful Codger at 1:46 PM on February 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


If you believe The Secret is fucking dumb, it will be fucking dumb. Change your perception!
posted by naju at 1:46 PM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Seems to me it's entirely a matter of training yourself to remember the hits and forget the misses. And to mistake more random occurrences as hits. --Also, the gorilla? He's the one moving the goddamn cheese.
posted by kipmanley at 1:47 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll be more specific. I'll also point out that Wiseman's definition of a "lucky person" is self-reported. He is not externally defining a "Lucky person", and therefore is not externally defining "luck". This is a report on how our opinions about ourselves affect our behaviors, and vice versa.

The Secret: "If I just change my thoughts, I could have it all. Thanks, cosmos!"

This research: "Lucky people are certain that the future is going to be full of good fortune. These expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies by helping lucky people persist in the face of failure, and shape their interactions with others in a positive way."

I'm hesitant to go so far as to say that unlucky people can become lucky, but it seems like at least a rather thorough catalog of the traits and behaviors common to optimists who consider themselves lucky.
posted by muddgirl at 1:48 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


In one interview, a lucky volunteer arrived with his leg in a plaster cast and described how he had fallen down a flight of stairs. I asked him whether he still felt lucky and he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before. As he pointed out, he could have broken his neck.

This points out what I think is a fundamental flaw in this whole argument, the lucky versus unlucky people are defined by self-assessments, and people are really, really bad at objectively evaluating how their experiences differ from the most probable outcome.

For example, I've played a lot of poker with a lot of people, and many of those people are convinced that they have worse luck than everyone else when it comes to cards. If you actually looked at the outcomes objectively, you would see that, for example, everyone loses with pocket aces versus pocket deuces around 20% of the time in Hold 'Em, but those people will point out every time that they lose as evidence that they are cursed.

So I don't think any of these tips are really about how to manufacture luck, but rather about how to feel better about living in the same random and arbitrary world that everyone else lives in.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:48 PM on February 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Not scientific? Wiseman studied 400 people for *ten* years, and came up with well-reasoned and testable conclusions about how changing ones mental attitude can positively affect ones life. Take your psychology-hate elsewhere. Wiseman is one of the good guys.
posted by lholladay at 1:48 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


I swear, this same general argument about how to be lucky/successful/awesome/whatever gets recycled every five or ten years, and they always boils down to "be an optimistic extrovert." Well, fuck, I'll get right on that.
posted by Caduceus at 1:49 PM on February 16, 2010 [42 favorites]


omie If it weren't for disappointments, I wouldn't have any appointments.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 1:52 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Or "Optimistic extrovert self-report that they feel lucky".
posted by The Whelk at 1:52 PM on February 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


I find it weird that people are dismissing this. It sounds to me a lot like the stuff in Feeling Good, the most recommended self-help book on AskMe.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:52 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


we're a bunch of cranky unlucky introverts apparently.
posted by The Whelk at 1:54 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


This has nothing to do with hating psychology and everything to do with the fact that the Positive Mental Attitude movement has been horseshit since the days of Norman Vincent Peale.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:54 PM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is a story 'bout Dan
He was a little man
He used to drive around in a yellow minivan...

posted by l33tpolicywonk at 1:54 PM on February 16, 2010


be an optimistic extrovert

Actually, it's "be optimistic and outgoing". Introverts can still be outgoing.

I mean, I'm a pessimistic and shy introvert, and even I recognize that these behaviors (part learned, part biological due to low base energy levels) negatively affect my opportunities in life.

In other words, if there's a free quote-unquote luck course, I'd probably take it.
posted by muddgirl at 1:55 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Love this. Thanks for posting it!
posted by Kimberly at 1:55 PM on February 16, 2010


So this is actually nothing like the Secret.

Richard Wiseman is an awesome skeptical researcher who is probably one of the most rigorous psychologists in his field. It's predictable, but sad, that we're so quick to dismiss his research because of a silly popcrap book that was released a few years ago.


This was always my take on The Secret: if you focus on a goal really really hard, you'll eventually get it. It never seemed weird at all to me but the writers/publishers of that book dressed up that simple axiom in New Age hype. As a result people mock The Secret endlessly but I see it as neither a remarkable lost Truth of the Old Masters nor a LOL HIPPIEZ mockery fest. Seems pretty commonsensical, actually.
posted by zardoz at 1:59 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here is quote from the video version of The Secret

"Now, if you don't understand it, that doesn't mean that you should reject it. You don't understand electricity probably. First of all, no one even knows what electricity is. And yet you enjoy the benefits of it. Do you know how it works? I don't know how it works."

aaaand scene.
posted by The Whelk at 2:02 PM on February 16, 2010 [16 favorites]


My socks and shoes always match
Is It Luck?
There's a foot at the end of each of my legs
Is It Luck?
I can play my bass for you
Is It Luck?
Some girls like to kiss my face
Is It Luck? Is It Luck?
posted by poe at 2:02 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


"The Secret" took a real psychological phenomenon and utterly destroyed its credibility by pitching it to people as a way to generate good fortune by sitting on your ass and thinking good thoughts about your lottery ticket.
Don't let that make you dismiss this stuff as new-agey ask-the-universe crap. There is science to this.
posted by rocket88 at 2:03 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


This points out what I think is a fundamental flaw in this whole argument, the lucky versus unlucky people are defined by self-assessments, and people are really, really bad at objectively evaluating how their experiences differ from the most probable outcome.

Except you're not misunderstanding how these self-assessments turn around to influence themselves and amplify productivity by creating confidence and self-esteem. Comparing gambling to a positive feedback loop of positive energy is wrong, here.

'Lucky' is just a shorthand for happy, optimistic, confident, opportunistic. It's just that these factors work together to provide events that seem 'lucky' to the outside observer. He's not really connecting luck to probability, here, people, and if you think he's saying "lucky people get better cards at poker" then reread the article.

In short:
a) optimistic person with broken leg -> doesn't stress out -> goes about day
b) depressed, pessimistic person with broken leg -> stresses out -> loses wallet, keys -> thinks "I'm so unlucky" -> stresses out -> locks self out of car -> thinks "I'm so so unlucky" -> et cetera.
posted by suedehead at 2:04 PM on February 16, 2010 [13 favorites]


I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: "Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper." This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the lucky people tended to spot it, and the unlucky people tended to die in an earthquake or tsunami.

Can't argue with that.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:05 PM on February 16, 2010 [23 favorites]


The Whelk: "A man may be a pessimistic determinist before lunch and an optimistic believer in the will's freedom after it." Huxley, Aldous

One factor quite possibly being how good or bad his lunch was.

And how many beers he had with it
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:05 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sounds more like "luck" in the context of this guy's research is "deliberately maximizing your opportunities for success, and not getting bummed about the larger number of failures as your sample size grows." Some people do this intuitively, and celebrate the wins, while others respond to failure by narrowing their attempts and further reducing their odds of success.

That's not 'The Secret' at all.
posted by verb at 2:08 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


In other words, if there's a free quote-unquote luck course, I'd probably take it.

I would plan on going to the free luck course, but on the way there I'd get a flat tire, and while I was trying to change it I would step on a nail, which would become infected with an extremely rare form of bacteria, and the hospital I went to would fly in the only expert surgeon who could treat it, but his flight would get canceled due to a freak blizzard, and through some sort of mix-up they would accidentally amputate my left arm instead.

On second thought, I think I'll skip it.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:09 PM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Not giving up" is an important skill to success, very much so in the arts where you often have to do the same thing over and over and over and any kind of success seems totally and completely arbitrary and you have to keep pushing back the thought that you're screaming into the darkness and nothing you say or do will ever matter cause you are an ant in a 9 billion strong hive blindly throwing itself against random events and then trying to find meaning in them later and ultimately everything you've done will become someone that someone can buy in a yard sale or throw away - if you're lucky.

But yea, once you get over that little bit it's easy.
posted by The Whelk at 2:12 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


If the research is correct, there's surely no point in publishing it, because it predicts that the unlucky people, who need to know about it, will miss it or stick to their routine anyway, while lucky people don't need to read it because they're doing the right things already.

Damn, I think that's unlucky thinking.
posted by Phanx at 2:25 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I'm getting out of this is that "lucky" people do random things like follow hunches and break out of a routine. This leads them to greater variation in their experiences, both positive and negative, but since they are optimists, they repress all the negative stuff, and believe that good things are constantly happening to them.

This is all well and good, but it seems inefficient. If you're going to be deluding yourself anyway, why not just delude yourself into thinking that your routine experiences are lucky? "The milk stayed cold in the fridge overnight! The bus came on time! The grocery store was open on Saturday afternoon! I must live a truly charmed life..."
posted by AlsoMike at 2:28 PM on February 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's a little simplistic to call this "The Secret" - Wiseman is a scientist who often tests some amazing things - I loved his book Quirkology which is all about the little oddball things that happen in life but seem to small for science to take seriously - I wanted to read more in-depth about his studies after reading it.
posted by Calzephyr at 2:28 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Positive thinking is a skill. For example, I've often wished that I had taken part in more team sports as a kid, because it teaches attitudes about goal setting, dealing with loss, and refining performance, plus all the other stuff about learning to work with others. These skills would have steered my life in a different direction, I'm pretty sure.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:29 PM on February 16, 2010


POE SUCKS
posted by scrump at 2:30 PM on February 16, 2010


My local bar is inexplicably closed and no amount of positive thinking with make it re-open.

Oh wait! I have a beer I forgot about in the fridge!
posted by The Whelk at 2:35 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


There's an old Chinese proverb [or whatever]: "Luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation."

Everybody has shit happen to them, both good and bad. That's just the fucking universe. The difference is how we interpret those events and how we behave based upon our interpretations.

"Lucky" people work hard to create opportunities. Was it "lucky" they happened to be sitting right next to a great new business contact at the ball game last Sunday? Maybe, but the "lucky" people struck up a conversation with him and made their luck happen. The "unlucky" people probably just sat there sucking down $8 Miller Lites.

This could go on and on and on. There is endless psychological research about all of this. Happier people tend to have an internal locus of control; in other words they believe that they are responsible for what happens to them. Unhappy people tend to see the world (and their misfortune) as outside their ability to control. Great athletes tend to forget their failures and remember their wins.

The basic point you'll see over and over and over again is this:
1) Define goals. [expectations: reasonable]
2) Expend effort every day in pursuit. [action: abundant]
3) Count blessings and ignore failures until goal is reached. [attitude: positive]
4) Adjust goals as opportunity or situations change [thinking: lateral]
5) Repeat. [discipline: perpetual]

Do this often enough and eventually it will become your reality. Do this often enough and eventually the successes will start to pile up (5) even successes you didn't see coming (4) you will forget about pain and worry (3) you will be confident that more success is on the way (2) and you will have what you want (1). And after awhile you will be living a life beyond your wildest dreams.

Now all that is real easy to say and remarkably difficult to do, but you will see in the literature thousands of basic variations of this theme. This research is a nice new addition and reinforces all that. Even before I read the article I thought, "I bet lucky people create opportunities and work hard to be prepared to meet them. I bet they challenge themselves. I bet if they remember setbacks at all, they see them as blessings in disguise. I bet the unlucky people see the events in their lives as out of their control. I bet they are creatures of routine and habit. I bet they constantly focus on what they don't have in their lives, rather than what they do." And? Yup.
posted by ChasFile at 2:36 PM on February 16, 2010 [37 favorites]


Professor WISE MAN?

eponysterical.
posted by Hammond Rye at 2:36 PM on February 16, 2010


Eh, if you're happy and well adjusted you just might be more in tune with opportunities as they are presented to you and then be in a more fertile state of mind to see their potential. If you're depressed or negative not so much. Nothing really new there.

As for "The Secret", well, those scammers had spend decades perfecting that stuff. It's kind of admirable in a way, but they're still going to burn.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:42 PM on February 16, 2010


I agree with ChasFile.
posted by philip-random at 2:43 PM on February 16, 2010


'Lucky' is just a shorthand for happy, optimistic, confident, opportunistic.

So his research findings boil down to "'Happy, optimistic, confident, opportunistic people are happy, optimistic, confident, opportunistic."?
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:44 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lucky Charms is what happens when little marshmallows meet Irish folklore.
posted by everichon at 2:46 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guess the real question here is do you feel lucky, punk?
posted by The Whelk at 2:48 PM on February 16, 2010


Eh, if you're happy and well adjusted you just might be more in tune with opportunities as they are presented to you and then be in a more fertile state of mind to see their potential. If you're depressed or negative not so much. Nothing really new there.

As for "The Secret", well, those scammers had spend decades perfecting that stuff. It's kind of admirable in a way, but they're still going to burn.
IMO, this kind of research is great precisely because it separates those "Eh? Yeah, sure, everyone knew that" observations about opportunity and preparedness from The Secret's snake oil promises.
posted by verb at 2:49 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


After reading this article I realize that contracting The AIDS was actually my lucky break in disguise!
posted by clarknova at 2:51 PM on February 16, 2010


An outgoing and positive attitude? Fuck that.

I'll keep drinking the blood of lottery winners. That's been working for me so far.
posted by quin at 2:57 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, what this is doing is separating depressed people from non-depressed people, basically. Other research shows that depressed people literally do not see smiles addressed towards them-- and here you have them literally not seeing opportunities that are being presented in the newspaper.

What I'm curious about is whether some of them *did* see the ads but were overly conscientious and considered rely on them as "cheating." Were they allowed to ask about whether it was OK to not really count the photos? Otherwise, what this is kind of saying is that lucky people take shortcuts, some of which may not be ethical.

Where this and reality diverge from "The Secret" and related nonsense is that this is about perception-- not about reality. The ad really is in the newspaper-- these lucky people aren't "manifesting" it by thinking it into existence. They are seeing what's actually there--and it clearly is the case that being calm and not anxious allows you to be more creative and therefore, to see more solutions to problems, which can be perceived as being luckier.

The Secret, however, makes claims that perception is reality or can change reality-- and there's no basis for that except in the very banal sense of how perception of self and others can alter interactions. That doesn't mean that dreaming up Prince Charming will bring him to you-- only that if you meet a suitable candidate, you'll perceive his signs of interest rather than ignore or dismiss them or, for the truly depressed, read interest as rejection.
posted by Maias at 3:01 PM on February 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


Insofar as we live in a competitive society-- and I leave the determination of the extent of that as an exercise for my readers-- I can only be lucky if you are unlucky, and in the present situation, where we are as a whole quite unlucky, I can be lucky only by making you even more unlucky than you would have been (see you at your funeral, sure was lucky I took out that insurance policy on you).

By spreading the gospel of luck and cluing in the suckers, Wiseman is making what he claims much less true by the act of claiming it.

But hey, he gets the big bucks.

And if you buy it, you get the big sucks.
posted by jamjam at 3:01 PM on February 16, 2010


Except you're not misunderstanding how these self-assessments turn around to influence themselves and amplify productivity by creating confidence and self-esteem. Comparing gambling to a positive feedback loop of positive energy is wrong, here.

'Lucky' is just a shorthand for happy, optimistic, confident, opportunistic. It's just that these factors work together to provide events that seem 'lucky' to the outside observer. He's not really connecting luck to probability, here, people, and if you think he's saying "lucky people get better cards at poker" then reread the article.


But I think life is a lot like cards, in that a lot of the mechanics of what happens to you are beyond your control and you're always working with imperfect information about what's going on.

Going back to the poker analogy, he seems to be saying that unlucky people are like card players who never take any risks. In poker, the nickname for that kind of player is a "rock." They only play sure things, and if their sure thing ends up losing, they feel that they are unlucky and the world is against them. They end up not making very much money because they don't give themselves enough opportunities to win.

There are also people who play poker like the tips that leotrotsky posted suggest, they go with their gut, make decisions randomly, and take a lot of risks. Sometimes, they win big, and that's what keeps them playing, but most of the time they lose. Since they focus on the positive, though, they don't really notice that they lose more than they win. It's also the same kind of attitude that keeps people pumping money into slot machines in hopes for a big jackpot. Those big jackpots might look like luck to an outside observer, but there are a lot of small losses that aren't as visible.

The people who really do well at poker are somewhere in the middle. They know whether or not they are losing money because they keep track of it, and objectively analyze what kinds of situations are positive for them and what kinds of situations are negative for them. They know what risks are worth taking and which ones aren't. If you asked them if they were luckier or unluckier than most people, they would probably tell you that in the long run luck has nothing to do with it.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:04 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Maybe it's because I just got finished re-watching the The Wire but I refuse alla this.

I too wish to be happy, optimistic, confident and opportunistic like Clay Davis and Marlo and Kenard and all the lucky people of the world.
posted by Danila at 3:04 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I consider myself a very lucky person. I don't attribute it to anything I do, really, I'd just chalk it up to.... wait for it .... luck.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:05 PM on February 16, 2010


This all reminds me of Flow by Csikszentmihalyi which also lays out a big signal-to-noise ratio theory, with a bigger helping of self absorption for the achievers.
posted by drowsy at 3:22 PM on February 16, 2010


"Not giving up" is an important skill to success, very much so in the arts where you often have to do the same thing over and over and over and any kind of success seems totally and completely arbitrary and you have to keep pushing back the thought that you're screaming into the darkness and nothing you say or do will ever matter cause you are an ant in a 9 billion strong hive blindly throwing itself against random events and then trying to find meaning in them later

You totally just summarized my experience of graduate school (in the sciences).
posted by sevenyearlurk at 3:33 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's fairly basic knowledge that if you can convince a group of people to act 'happy' for a few minutes, by forcing smiles and laughs, fake bonhomie, etc, at some point most of them will actually feel happy.

So I will agree that if a person is determined enough that they are willing to deliberately act out those 4 principles, and if they keep at it enough... they will likely feel they are having better luck, and then it's a short hop to actually doing better.

Of course they have to be confident enough to try, and to stick at it...
posted by Artful Codger at 3:35 PM on February 16, 2010


I would plan on going to the free luck course, but on the way there I'd get a flat tire, and while I was trying to change it I would step on a nail, which would become infected with an extremely rare form of bacteria, and the hospital I went to would fly in the only expert surgeon who could treat it, but his flight would get canceled due to a freak blizzard, and through some sort of mix-up they would accidentally amputate my left arm instead.

I had a lucky incident happen a couple weeks ago, and it started pretty much like that: I got a flat tire.

I was riding a new bicycle to meet with a bunch of people to go on a breakfast ride. I was late leaving home and got a flat along the way. I didn't have a pump, I had one of those cartridge inflators; I'd never used one before. And the back tire came off differently than all my other bikes. How is this lucky?

Well, the unlucky guy would have given up and called the wife to get a ride home, then sit home fuming about missing the ride.

I went ahead and fixed my flat. I was lucky- it took less time than I thought it would. I was also lucky that the little cartridge inflator was easier to use than I thought. I was late to the meetup point, but I was lucky- the group was dragging its feet and was running late as well. But even if I had missed them, I still would have considered myself lucky because I had already planned in my head a different route to try that I had never ridden before.

In short, I made my own luck.

That's basically what Wiseman is saying, isn't it?
posted by Doohickie at 3:39 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Being "lucky" and being "happy" are self-attained descriptors. The only way to be either "lucky" or "happy" is simply to believe you are either.

I've been hit by a car (twice) and lost nearly everything I own in a fire (with no insurance), and yet I still feel I am generally "lucky." Send me 250 and I can explain how?!?!

That said, I thought it was a great article, and I'm curious to hear why it's "not scientific." Did the research not follow the scientific method?

adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good

I think this is the big one, and my main point above. You could look at a house fire as the most disastrous event in your life, or an opportunity to clear your mind (and person) of unnecessary baggage.

e.g. In one interview, a lucky volunteer arrived with his leg in a plaster cast and described how he had fallen down a flight of stairs. I asked him whether he still felt lucky and he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before. As he pointed out, he could have broken his neck.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:43 PM on February 16, 2010


I thought the heart of the first article was here:

I wondered whether these four principles could be used to increase the amount of good luck that people encounter in their lives. To find out, I created a "luck school" - a simple experiment that examined whether people's luck can be enhanced by getting them to think and behave like a lucky person.

I asked a group of lucky and unlucky volunteers to spend a month carrying out exercises designed to help them think and behave like a lucky person. These exercises helped them spot chance opportunities, listen to their intuition, expect to be lucky, and be more resilient to bad luck.

One month later, the volunteers returned and described what had happened. The results were dramatic: 80 per cent of people were now happier, more satisfied with their lives and, perhaps most important of all, luckier. While lucky people became luckier, the unlucky had become lucky.


So 80 percent of people who did the exercises for a month reported that they were happier and more satisfied and felt themselves to be luckier. Also, this wasn't limited to those who believed themselves lucky. Apparently the unlucky became lucky (and were happier and more satisfied, we assume).

That seems to me awfully good news. And yes, I'm going to buy his book.
posted by ferdydurke at 3:48 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry but there's no such thing as luck. This is the worst kind of psychobabble horseshit.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:50 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: "Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper." This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the lucky people tended to spot it, and the unlucky people tended to die in an earthquake or tsunami.

To be fair to the unlucky people, their score was really impacted by the members of their group who were dead due to an earthquake or tsunami. I think Wiseman stopped counting after 10 minutes, so they really screwed the average up.

Now that I solved one riddle, I'm off to solve Wiseman's mystery ghost photo. Seriously, he has a photo of a ghost that he wants you to debunk or prove to be true. I think it's for science.

That seems to me awfully good news. And yes, I'm going to buy his book.

I'll save you the trip to the store (online or in real life): Bobby McFerrin says it all (or maybe it was Meher Baba).
posted by filthy light thief at 3:53 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Survivorship bias at work?
posted by anniecat at 4:01 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now that I solved one riddle, I'm off to solve Wiseman's mystery ghost photo. Seriously, he has a photo of a ghost that he wants you to debunk or prove to be true. I think it's for science.

That's actually a ghost photo. The ghost is real.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:19 PM on February 16, 2010


All that all of this is saying is that if you don't keep buying tickets until you win you aren't going to win the lottery.

"Luck" is magical thinking and their use of the term is disingenuous in that luck connotes no effort and/or a cosmic or divine intervention. Someone employing the term "luck" while claiming a scientific basis probably has something to sell as Wiseman no doubt does.

That said, if his way of systematizing the behaviors that open up more opportunities works for you I'm all for it and you can consider yourself lucky that you didn't transfer more money than you did to hucksters like Wiseman.
posted by vapidave at 4:28 PM on February 16, 2010


"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race” -- Calvin Coolidge

It's funny how many times humans can have the obvious yelled at them, and then one day it just clicks. May it click for an unusually high number of you today; that would make me feel lucky.
posted by Pragmatica at 4:32 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Luck" is magical thinking

There's nothing wrong with magical thinking. My father-in-law earned a living as a palm reader. He also made lucky charms (o-mamori), which was actually the more lucrative part of the business. Who knows if his efforts helped women get pregnant or kids get into good universities (he had a good reputation and plenty repeat business from all over Japan, so I'm guessing people felt he could get results), but people felt luckier thanks to him.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:34 PM on February 16, 2010



Positive thinking is a skill. For example, I've often wished that I had taken part in more team sports as a kid, because it teaches attitudes about goal setting, dealing with loss, and refining performance, plus all the other stuff about learning to work with others. These skills would have steered my life in a different direction, I'm pretty sure.


That's what smoking pot did for me. Goal setting: Get high all the time. Dealing with loss: Shit we're out of pot! Refining performance: Bongs, scraping bowls, better dealers. Working with others: If we combine our bags of pot, we have more! These sorts of skills have certainly steered my life in the meaningful direction, as we can all see, as I am posting on metafilter at 7:36 on Tuesday night.
posted by milarepa at 4:36 PM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm very impressed that someone embarked on a study that even scratches the surface of this issue. It lends some observational weight and rigor to what I've seen in my own personal travels.
posted by melatonic at 4:36 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Slightly sideways to the LUCK question is something I remember reading in a book by psychiatrist M Scott Peck (I can't remember which book; it was a long time ago). He basically stated that, after many years in the psychiatry wars, the single trait that best defined a "sane" person was their ability to take responsibility for getting themselves out of the messes they found themselves in. That is, whether these "sane" people made their own messes or just got blind-sided by life-in-general, they somehow chose to NOT wallow in placing blame, feeling pain etc but rather fixed themselves the goal of somehow getting out of the hole they were in.

It could be as simple (and self-inflicted) a situation as losing a driving license due to one too many speeding tickets, or as horrific (and blameless) as losing loved ones in a random accident -- the "sane", regardless of their health or wealth or religious or philosophical leanings figured out a way to commit to a positive course of learning, healing, forgiving, WORKING, whatever was applicable to resolving their turmoil.
posted by philip-random at 4:39 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


What else is Tuesday for?
posted by The Whelk at 4:39 PM on February 16, 2010


(aside from being Moze's girlfriend)
posted by The Whelk at 4:39 PM on February 16, 2010


Sorry but there's no such thing as luck. This is the worst kind of psychobabble horseshit.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:50 PM on February 16 [+] [!]


Eponhilarious.

On topic, I suspect Ebert would think of himself as a lucky man. And he can't eat, drink or talk.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:41 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've never read "The Secret" but several years ago a friend conned me into reading "The Game", which is about the strangely burgeoning pick up artist scene. The guy that talked me into reading it had just gotten out of a long marriage and was somewhat of a misanthropic recluse, so he was reading it looking for genuine answers. Me? I stuck with it because I found the whole scam rudely compelling.

The gist is that while they outwardly imply they will teach you how to land any individual girl you want at any time (taking pains never to actually state it in words as such) in the end what you have is them advocating playing the numbers game, attempting to use their (extremely hokey, it must be said) rapport building techniques to maximize each attempt, sure, but ultimately recognizing that you were certain to face a disproportionate amount of rejection and the key was just sticking at it.

Without delving into the sleazy details, suffice to say that much of the detail in their methods were essentially workarounds toward dealing with that very certainty of rejection, details which would obviously be needlessly complex and unnecessary to begin with if they were, in fact, training you to focus on the hottest girl in the room and taking her (and only her) home every night.

So these days when I hear the "positive optimism" movement position the playing of the numbers game as maximizing your opportunity for success, I acknowledge the wisdom to a degree but also wonder to another degree just how much it conditions you to settle for lower standards. My own (admittedly anecdotal) experience largely confirms this: I feel I have roughly equal amounts of good and bad luck; when I perceive that I've just been struck with good luck it's usually because I wasn't expecting much out of the situation to begin with. But when I have bad luck, it nearly always has to do with not having money set aside to deal with contingencies.

That's just a straight up discipline problem which has nothing to do with being chipper or dour. So I guess the point I'm getting at is that there are so many variables that contribute to "good" and "bad" luck that you can't just write some blanket prescription to cure the entire world at once. If you're really interested in modifying your life by altering your outlook or mindset I would think you'd be much better off having someone evaluate you individually than getting in line for some group seminar. The "one size fits all" approach is for the salesman's benefit, not yours.
posted by squeakyfromme at 4:52 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The reason this is not scientific is because of the use of the word "luck" as a term. Luck, miracles, karma are all things a person can choose to believe in but they can't be objectively proven. People who feel they're lucky are going to point to all the cases of good fortune as evidence of good luck ignoring the times they didn't do so well. People who feel they're unlucky are going to focus on their misfortune. Both cases are subjective and do not add anything to the discussion in that it tells us really nothing.


On topic, I suspect Ebert would think of himself as a lucky man. And he can't eat, drink or talk.

This is the point exactly, it's a subjective idea.
posted by nola at 4:53 PM on February 16, 2010


My father-in-law earned a living as a palm reader. He also made lucky charms (o-mamori), which was actually the more lucrative part of the business.

If I had family members who made a living by exploiting human gullibility I sure wouldn't boast about it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:53 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]




A person cannot be wise, without also being compassionate.
posted by nola at 5:03 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I had family members who made a living by exploiting human gullibility I sure wouldn't boast about it.

It may be difficult for you to accept that some cultures may hold different values and points of view than your own.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:06 PM on February 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


I only know Wiseman from his takedown of Sheldrake's "psychic dogs" bullshit [pdf].
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:11 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Whelk: What else is Tuesday for?

Mardi Gras!!
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:15 PM on February 16, 2010


I think we would have a far different reaction to this if Wiseman had chosen different words than "luck" and "lucky". It's clear he's not talking about supernatural good fortune but about the feedback loops between different behaviours, action, and experience.

"Luck" = "interpreting events positively"
"Lucky" = "feeling that good things happen to you"

Duh -- it's virtually tautological. And yet I find efforts to systematically identify exactly which traits and habit lead to happiness pretty interesting. Maybe Wiseman (marvelous surname for this study area) is a Bodhisattva masquerading as a psychologist, eh?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:16 PM on February 16, 2010


This methodology sucks. Lucky people are the people who win 750 out of 1000 coin flips. The people that he's describing aren't lucky, they're simply people with better social skills and people with an optimistic outlook on life.

If I had family members who made a living by exploiting human gullibility I sure wouldn't boast about it.

But KokuRyu's father-in-law *was* lucky. He was lucky he didn't get his head stoved in or get arrested for taking money under false pretences.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:16 PM on February 16, 2010


It may be difficult for you to accept that some cultures may hold different values and points of view than your own.

I do not know of any culture on earth, past or present, which values the things I value.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:20 PM on February 16, 2010


'I was going to buy a copy of "The Power of Positive Thinking" and then I thought: What the hell good would that do?' -Ronnie Shakes
posted by arruns at 5:21 PM on February 16, 2010


But KokuRyu's father-in-law *was* lucky. He was lucky he didn't get his head stoved in or get arrested for taking money under false pretences.


What in the hell Peter?
posted by nola at 5:21 PM on February 16, 2010


He also made lucky charms

He worked in a cereal factory?? Cool!
posted by jonmc at 5:25 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


He's right, that is luck. The man was lucky enough to live in a society where thieves and con artists aren't subject to brutal retribution. There's a lot of places on this planet, past and present, where taking people's money and giving them nothing in return lands you in serious shit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:26 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll bet a lot of lucky, optimistic extroverts had an upbringing in which good outcomes were frequent and predictable, and surprises, when they happened, tended to be good.

These are people who tend not to look for the mousetrap in the proffered box of chocolates because, for most of their experience, there hasn't been one. Once their personalities were formed, it's ok for them to encounter a mousetrap once in a while because they know, from long experience, that most of the time, when something looks good, it really is.

People who get the mousetrap early and often as children tend to refuse the chocolate, even when it's real. sometimes especially when it's real, because who would give away good chocolate, knowing that most chocolate boxes contain mousetraps?
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:29 PM on February 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


You're a hard man Pope. Lets hope you never find yourself in an intellectually indefensible position, you'd never be able to forgive yourself.
posted by nola at 5:31 PM on February 16, 2010


Fake it till you make it.
posted by ook at 5:32 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


To avoid a derail, I've taken my conversation with Pope Guilty to MeMail.

But, since I think it helps contribute to this discussion, I'd like mention the book "Congo Journey", but Redmond O'Hanlon.

The book is about an expedition chartered by O'Hanlon in the mid-90s to travel up the Congo River to find a mythical brontosaurus - a cryptid.

O'Hanlon based his plans in part on scientific studies conducted by a western-trained Congolese PhD (who also was employed as a senior government bureaucrat) that seemed to indicate the presence of something big in a lake in the interior, far upriver.

So there seemed to be some proof that this monster existed.

Along the way, O'Hanlon met a forest spirit - his travelmates heard him talking to the spirit in his tent at night - and it turned out that he was suffering psychotic side-effects from an experimental malaria drug.

Anyway, when they reached the lake, O'Hanlon discovered it was only about 3 feet deep - far too shallow to host a Brontosaurus.

"But you told me it was real," O'Hanlon said to the scientist.

"Ah, yes, but it's an imaginary animal." The bronto was real but imaginary.

Earlier in the book, O'Hanlon had met a French or Belgian expat who built roads. When the French/Belgian talked about assuming the shape of an elephant at night and roaming the jungle, O'Hanlon said "you can't possibly believe that" and the French/Belgian expat stopped talking to him.

My point is, not every culture is rationale, and it's often a mistake to impose western values on others.

Luck does exist. It's just imaginary.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:34 PM on February 16, 2010


I try to make sure my beliefs aren't absolute nonsense. I also don't fuck people out of their money by exploiting their superstitions and beliefs. These are basic, fundamental standards of human behavior.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:35 PM on February 16, 2010


Intuition is important.

If I trust my intuition and it works, great; if it doesn't work, oh well, at least I tried.

If I don't trust my intuition and it works, well, okay; but, if it doesn't work, F*ck! F*ck! F*ck!

That's how you learn about life. Intuition becomes more efficient as you grow older.
posted by ovvl at 5:37 PM on February 16, 2010


There are no rational cultures. The post-modern caricature of the rational West is nothing but a sick joke conceived as a way of calling rationalists and skeptics racist. The West is just as superstitious and epistemically incautious as the rest of the world.

To criticise irrationality is not to criticize one culture in favor of another. It is to denigrate every culture that has ever existed.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:38 PM on February 16, 2010


I don't know why moral blame would attach to a person who genuinely believes what they do is helpful, in a milieu where it is generally accepted to be a helpful thing.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:38 PM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


It is to denigrate every culture that has ever existed.

Yes, that would be me.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:42 PM on February 16, 2010


So let's just use the word "fortunate" instead.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:03 PM on February 16, 2010


I wonder if anyone has looked for a correlation between "attractiveness" and "luckiness"... does anyone know?
posted by amtho at 6:06 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Prognostication: while the rational creature invariably decides upon a course of action between evils based upon the detached weighing of advantages on a hypothetical scale, there often appear events which must be decided upon involving concealed or uncertain elements: in such cases a decision based upon a random or abstract factor might make as much sense as anything else. However, the individual whose destiny is controlled by trinkets and omens merely demonstates that their personal judgment, if forced to be relied upon, would inevitably be insufficient for the task anyway, and is thus excused.
posted by ovvl at 6:06 PM on February 16, 2010


Father-in-law provided a service, and satisfied his clients.

The essence of fortune-telling is reading the client. An ethical fortune-teller engages in a form of therapy, and provides an affirmation for their clients concerns. An unethical fortune-teller exploits their fears. (hey, this sounds kinda like Church).

If I had family members who made a living by exploiting human gullibility I sure wouldn't boast about it.

In the West, the practice of Law is an honorable profession.
posted by ovvl at 6:41 PM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am the author of my own fate. It involves tentacles and karate.
posted by Mister_A at 7:58 PM on February 16, 2010


The essence of fortune-telling is reading the client. An ethical fortune-teller engages in a form of therapy, and provides an affirmation for their clients concerns.

God forbid they see somebody who is actually trained in providing therapy and not simply making things up.

In the West, the practice of Law is an honorable profession.

No, it isn't. Lawyers, even ethical ones, are regarded as the scum of the earth.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:06 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


People who are shitting on this research are misunderstanding it.

Wiseman is using the term luck tongue-in-cheek. He is engaging in irony. Perhaps the good folks over the Telegraph should have employed the sarcasm punctuation mark to make this clear.

Wiseman is discussing people who consider themselves lucky, or perhaps who are considered by others to be lucky. He is not saying that cosmic new age mystical luck exists. In fact, he is saying exactly the opposite.

He is saying that the thing which humans perceive and label as luck and ascribe to supernatural influences and fate is in fact the simple result of a small number of acquired and learnable behaviors. That's all. No mysticism involved.

Sure, he could have "there's no such thing as luck. you make your own opportunities." But that actually misses the key insight: the thing we label as "luck" actually does exist; it is serendipitous but it is not supernatural; and whether we have it or not is not a matter of fate (or luck) but a matter of attitude and behavior.

Needless to say, I thought the article rocked, and I feel fortunate that my habit of checking in on MetaFilter at random times led me to it.
posted by alms at 8:07 PM on February 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


I do not know of any culture on earth, past or present, which values the things I value.

Yes, yes, you're SUCH a special little snowflake. *pats head*

--

The danger with studies such as this, and books like THE SECRET, I fear, is that there's a very, very fine line between "having a good attitude" and "victim-blaming." It's absolutely true that one's attitude in the face of misfortune plays a great part in how you process that misfortune -- however, my fear is that it'd be all too easy to point to someone who's struggling with a genuine misfortune and say, "see, they're not unlucky, they just aren't looking at this with the right attitude." And, it may take some time to FIND the "right attitude" when you've just been mugged/just learned you have cancer/just learned you're infertile/just been laid off/what have you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 PM on February 16, 2010


Positive thinking is the opium of the people.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:27 PM on February 16, 2010


If it weren't for good luck, I'd have no luck at all.
posted by Someday Bum at 8:56 PM on February 16, 2010


let's just use the word "fortunate" instead.

"What about those of us who lack the money?"

"'Us?' Kurt's ideas have certainly rubbed off on you, haven't they, my dear? I'll have to see what I can do about that in the next few weeks. The ones without money, they're a word for them. Unfortunate. "

-Berlin, City Of Smoke. Book Two.
posted by The Whelk at 9:11 PM on February 16, 2010


Sure, he could have "there's no such thing as luck. you make your own opportunities." But that actually misses the key insight: the thing we label as "luck" actually does exist; it is serendipitous but it is not supernatural; and whether we have it or not is not a matter of fate (or luck) but a matter of attitude and behavior.

I agree. Luck is a matter of perception, but then again, according to Wiseman's experiments with the newspaper, luck is also quantifiable, and is a result of certain (learned) behaviours.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:48 PM on February 16, 2010


I used to be hugely lucky finding money just lying on the ground. Just lying there!

I walked long distances through parking lots and by parking meters. When I stopped doing that, my luck evaporated.
posted by codswallop at 10:37 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that there is a seemingly identical book (with scientific research, and five traits that lucky people have, and with an identical title, The Luck Factor, by Max Gunther, published in 1977, right around the time this Richard Wiseman guys started his luck research.

Probably just a coincidence.
posted by eye of newt at 11:05 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


You're a hard man Pope. Lets hope you never find yourself in an intellectually indefensible position, you'd never be able to forgive yourself.

But I'm sure Jesus would.
posted by philip-random at 11:12 PM on February 16, 2010


Richard Wiseman is an awesome skeptical researcher who is probably one of the most rigorous psychologists in his field. It's predictable, but sad, that we're so quick to dismiss his research because of a silly popcrap book that was released a few years ago.

This is a legitimate study that also happens to offer cognitive/behavioral theory in support of the same junk you find in "the secret," which is actually a newly packaged version of the "power of positive thinking," which was called something else before that and which will be called something new in another few years when someone else tries to make a buck off it. Meanwhile, scientists spend years proving that optimism is a good thing, and the general public spends millions on books that could be summarized just as easily. Not saying the research isn't worth it; scientists gotta look into something, it just seems like a slight variation on a study that's been already been done.
posted by jrking at 11:50 PM on February 16, 2010


As an antidote to this, read "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America" by Barbara Ehrenreich

Lots of people believed positive thinking would enable them to keep up mortgage payments they could not afford, among other things. No need to ever look at the larger picture when it is so easy to personalize and blame the victim.

Hexatron's Wife
posted by hexatron at 3:59 AM on February 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


Had I more time on my hands, I'd love to see a breakdown of the people in this thread:

Group A would be people that actually read the article and understand that "luck" is being used as a self-applied descriptor among research subjects, which the researcher in turn uses as a gauge for a matrix of things like self-confidence, self-esteem, and initiative, and believes based on research that this matrix is modifiable through education and conditioning.*

Group B would be people that didn't read the article, charged into the thread, and brayed "THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS LUCK".

Group C would be the people that read the article, understood it, and disagree with the researcher's methodology and results.

Then see which of these groups self-describe as "lucky" and "unlucky." I suspect we'd wind up with A, C and B in declining order of "luck."

*That's not quite right, but it's close to my understanding of what the "luck" value kind of amounts to empirically.
posted by Shepherd at 7:39 AM on February 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


I agree wholeheartedly with the good professor's findings - but I would add several other factors into the mix. I am an optimistic, outgoing, active and talkative person and I earn money doing things I love. However, I also benefit from some fairly pronounced dominant privilege and have worked hard to amass social capital where I lack unearned privilege. So for me success follows three tiers:
1. Dominant Privilege
2. Social Capital
3. Personal Attitude
and success is resultant from each and in the order listed along with a corollary degree of magnitude.

i.e. you can be the most outgoing, positive, well-networked physically disabled lesbian Somali woman and you're competing with depressed straight white guys who get a half-dozen business cards just for showing up.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:23 AM on February 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes, but he's careful to define "luck" differently from "success." Wiseman's lucky people are people who feel they are lucky.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:37 AM on February 17, 2010


I would consider myself "lucky" in that I'm happy, all of my needs are met, and truly bad shit doesn't happen to me all that often. Sure, I've had rough times, but I've lived through them! Lucky me!

However. There is a phenomenon I'd like to call "Grapefruitmoon's Law" and it states clearly: "If something STUPID is going to happen, it will happen to me." I'm not talking catastrophes; I'm talking things like go to pick up a prescription in Rhode Island and find out it's not there because it was mistakenly filled in NEW HAMPSHIRE... Really dumb stuff. It happens to me a disproportionate amount. I wonder what science has to say about THAT other than my own personal magnet for stupidity is turned up way high.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:29 AM on February 17, 2010


I actually think Wiseman's conclusions about unlucky people are more interesting.

According to his research, people who consider themselves "unlucky" tend to experience great anxiety, and to focus obsessively on their stated goals. To the point where they develop tunnel vision, and miss things in their surrounding environment.

In one experiment, the "unlucky" people miss a gorilla who wanders into the middle of a basketball game. In another experiment, the "unlucky" people overlook a HUGE ad in a newspaper that says "Stop looking! Also, tell the researchers you saw this, and we'll give you money!"

The lesson I've always taken away from this (and I've followed his work for years) is that luck - in other words, opportunity - is all around us. The important thing is to take a step back, not stress out, and keep your focus broad.
posted by ErikaB at 1:14 PM on February 17, 2010


Defining a lucky person as someone who sees themselves as lucky does not seem very useful to me. When someone sees themselves as unlucky (or unfortunate, or "cursed", or simply worse off in general), they are comparing themselves to those who they perceive as better off. But those who others perceive as lucky may very well perceive themselves as unlucky. Thus, lucky and unlucky people are not opposites.

I personally perceive myself as an unprivileged person in the society that I live in. But I also do not go around thinking that bad things will happen to me or that opportunities won't work out. The people I know who are in similar circumstances to my own but who go around thinking everything is going to work out just seem deluded to me (NOT lucky!), unless they have a sound basis for believing so, which given the history and state of the world in my opinion they do not. People who think they've "got it going on" in this system of things are suspect to me, but not lucky (or more fortunate, or blessed, or better off).
posted by Danila at 2:28 PM on February 17, 2010


I far prefer to go with cognitive behaviour scientific research based positive psychology - a la Richard Seligman. At least there has been some academic and science-based rigour behind it.

And some proven results - see 'The Optimistic Child' and 'Learned optimism'. And the price tag ? No seminars - just a book.
posted by IdleRepose at 6:47 PM on February 17, 2010


I'm lucky, and I agree with Dr. Wiseman. But then, I'm a white male over 6 feet tall, with decent communication skills. On the other hand, I'm a high school dropout, 52 years of age, retired, and living in Switzerland (being originally from Flint, Michigan, and yes, I did manage some college and a GED along the way).

Seriously, for all the pessimism in which I've indulged over the years, the fact remains that I have a core of optimism, always have. Most of the pessimism has been over side-issues, or over things that aren't about me, and, I'll admit, at times I've been way more focused on those things than on myself. Yet the core optimism out shines all that crap. It is shockingly conceited, except that really, I didn't think it was something special about myself, and originally felt it was just a basic fact of life. That optimism, simply stated, was that nothing I wanted to do was beyond my capabilities. As I grew, I learned appropriate limitations of that basic idea, but the idea remains. Now I'm old, and the limitations have been adjusted.

Of COURSE "luck" is a bullshit idea, except that it's a useful concept occasionally, used wisely. You can be a fool, and spend some bucks on a lucky charm you don't believe in, and you'll get the results you expect. Or you can be wise, and buy the lucky charm you know will work, and you'll be delighted. Which would you prefer?

You've been told many times before, messiahs pointed to the door, but no one had the guts to leave the temple. What will you do, this time?
posted by Goofyy at 7:11 AM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's actually a ghost photo. The ghost is real.

"in real ghost research, ghosts rarely appear as apparitions, in or out of photos"
posted by mrgrimm at 9:28 AM on February 19, 2010


I wonder if anyone has looked for a correlation between "attractiveness" and "luckiness"... does anyone know?

Likewise, how about a correlation between "being nice" and "luckiness."

Some of the "luckiest" people I know are also the nicest. Being a good friend for unselfish reasons can sometimes result in fortunate developments of your own. And it's rare when misanthropes in my life encounter fortuitous surprises (though it does happen).

I suppose, like everything in our world, it's all about perception.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:41 AM on February 19, 2010


There is a phenomenon I'd like to call "Grapefruitmoon's Law" and it states clearly: "If something STUPID is going to happen, it will happen to me." I'm not talking catastrophes; I'm talking things like go to pick up a prescription in Rhode Island and find out it's not there because it was mistakenly filled in NEW HAMPSHIRE... Really dumb stuff. It happens to me a disproportionate amount.

I have a similar instance - I have often joked that I don't have good or bad luck necessarily.

What I have instead....is WEIRD luck. The Callipygos Corrolary to Murphy's Law is: "if anything can go wrong in a particularly unusual fashion, I am the one it will happen to."

* When I got injured on a class trip in high school, it wasn't a slip-and-sprain-my-ankle, or a slip-and-break-my-wrist. It was slip-and-fall-into-a-bed-of-sea-urchins.

* When I was a junior counselor at a summer camp, the quandry in my cabin I had to deal with wasn't "homesick camper" or "two girls in a fight." Instead, it was "outbreak of mass hysteria stemming from someone telling a ghost story resulting in farming out the entire cabinful of girls to other cabins."

* The car trouble I had with a rental car this summer wasn't a matter of being out of gas or getting a flat tire. Instead, it was "my horn kept randomly going off until it finally got stuck 'on', and I got chased across Jones Beach by 2 state troopers who thought I was trying to wake everyone up."

Basically, if it's the kind of story that makes people ask, "...You did WHAT? They did WHAT? You got that WHERE? ....Is that even POSSIBLE?" Then I'm the one telling it.

But the upside of this, fortunately, is that -- you can't get upset about your troubles when they're coming across like a Monty Python outtake. You are at the very least looking forward to telling your friends, "okay, get THIS." It's taught me a better way of perceiving ALL of my misfortunes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:04 PM on February 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


« Older USDA makes available in map form a searchable, cou...  |  Man Finds A Real Dragon! Kinda... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments