A big question
Why do some people have all the luck?
A short story
There’s a fable I often think of when things go wrong.
Once, there was a farmer whose only horse ran away. All of his neighbours felt sorry for him and said, “what bad luck.”
But the farmer replied, “bad luck, good luck, who knows?”
The next week, the horse returned and brought with him a whole herd of wild horses. Everyone felt pleased for the farmer and said, “what good luck!”
And the farmer replied, “good luck, bad luck, who knows?”
The following week, the farmer’s son was riding one of the wild horses when the horse threw him from her back. He broke his leg and the doctor said, “what bad luck.”
The farmer again replied, “bad luck, good luck, who knows?”
The next week, soldiers came through the village to conscript all the young people into a war. The farmer’s son was left due to his broken leg. “You’re lucky,” a soldier told his father.
And at this, the farmer shrugged his shoulders. “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”
A little idea
After participating in a research study, someone who considered themselves generally lucky in life left the building and found a five-dollar bill on the ground. The previous participant, someone who considered themselves to be rather unlucky, stepped on the bill with their right shoe and never noticed it.
Is it just chance that the lucky person spotted the lost cash?
Research by Richard Wiseman suggests that there’s more to it than that. He’s studied luck through experiments like this and found that the fortunes we experience in life have more to do with how we think and what we do than we might realise. His experiments consistently found that the ‘lucky’ were more likely to notice opportunities, even those as seemingly random as cash on the sidewalk.
What’s more, Wiseman found four factors that help explain some of this difference between the lucky and the unlucky
“[‘Lucky’ people] 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.”
In other words, our perspective and expectations influence what we pay attention to, which in turn influences what we experience. You could think yourself terribly unlucky for getting into an accident, or you could thank your lucky stars it wasn’t worse. It turns out that this distinction in framing the story matters more than just as a difference in interpretation.
Of course, reality is still reality and terrible things happen. This isn’t about throwing glitter on dog do and calling it a gift. (I’ll write more about the nuance problems we have in what I see as the relentless manifestation-positive-thinking-everything-is-your-fault spiral in future letters. For now, just always remember that there’s a balance to strike between mindset and the cold hard reality of whatever you’re dealing with.)
What this story and research remind us of, however, is that whatever happens, our outlook impacts what happens next more than we might expect.
Opportunities abound if you look for them. Things have a way of coming back around if you let them.
A quote that puts it well…
“If you are what you think about, then you have to get real careful with what you think about…. Why have any of us learned to say ‘with my luck’ and have it mean that things aren’t going to work out? Why wouldn’t you say, and have it as your habit, ‘with my luck, it’ll probably show up faster than it normally does.’ Here’s what happens: as you begin to shift the way you think, you can only act upon your thoughts. And as you start acting upon that thought, you start to become a collaborator with fate.” - Wayne Dyer
Do you consider yourself to be lucky or unlucky? Let me know what you think of this idea. Until next week, take care of yourself,
P.S. If you’re new to this little letter about all things resilience, welcome! It’s an experiment-in-progress, so things might change up here and there as we go. I’m always interested in what you think, so let me know if something resonates or falls flat or what big questions you want to learn more about.