I am not a lucky person. My friends ask my advice for products and services so that they can make a different choice. Even my husband got into the act. Countless times I have heard “this never breaks” or “this has never happened before.” If it can break, it will. I had a root canal on the wrong tooth.
But on the important things, I have been incredibly lucky. I had a long and loving marriage, I have a healthy daughter, I have wonderful friends and family. So, I don’t pay a lot of attention to my “bad luck.” But I take precautions. I purchase the extended warranty, I keep extra pump and spray bottles (to replace defective ones), I try to avoid optional surgeries (more about that later), and I don’t waste my money on games of chance.
But as I am getting ready for a surgery to fix a botched Lasik, I started to wonder. Is there such a thing as luck?
Well, it depends on your perspective. Many believe that luck is probability taken personally. As a statistician, I am a big believer in probability. One of the most common errors in judgement is the gambler’s fallacy, which is a non-Bayesian approach (e.g., what is the probability that you will get “heads” on a fair coin if you have gotten “tails” for the last 10 times…the answer, 50%). From this viewpoint, “bad luck” is merely focusing on bad events and “good luck” is counting the good ones.
Many traditional practices, such as voodoo and hoodoo, have strong beliefs in luck and superstition. Religions teach that third parties can influence an individual’s luck, such as saints or ancestors. Shamans and witches are believed to cause good or bad fortune. In some cultures, certain numbers are lucky (7 for Christians; 8 for Chinese). Buddhism, on the other hand, emphatically believes that luck does not exist because all things that happen must have a cause.
Psychologist Richard Wiseman studied the phenomenon of luck and determined that good fortune is mostly attitude. “Lucky” people were more open-minded, smiling, and easy-going, while those who perceived themselves to be “unlucky” were more anxious and felt that they were unfairly “treated.”
Based on his research he developed a prescription for good luck:
- Maximize opportunities. Lucky people often change their daily routine making them open to new opportunities.
- Listen to hunches and your body’s reaction. Lucky people indicated that they listened to the little voice in their head.
- Expect good luck. Lucky people expect to win.
So, I am following his advice…hey you never know, maybe I’ll buy a lottery ticket.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.