Can good luck be engineered?

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Lindy Alexander

Research has found that lucky people smile twice as often and make more eye contact than unlucky people.

Research has found that lucky people smile twice as often and make more eye contact than unlucky people.

Some people seem to be blessed by good fortune. You know the ones: they lose a job one day only to land their dream position the next, or a blind date turns out to be marriage material. It can feel like some of us are simply destined to lead charmed lives.

"Some people really do have more good fortune than others," says Jane Fisher, a professor of psychology at Monash University. "But to some extent you can shape and increase the likelihood that good things happen to you."

This is not just wishful thinking. Research suggests there is more to luck than just random chance.

The science of luck

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Over a 10-year period beginning in 1993, UK academic Richard Wiseman studied the lives of 400 people who described themselves as exceptionally lucky or unlucky. He discovered that the concept of feeling lucky is more than mere whimsy, it's central to people's happiness.

But more importantly, Wiseman's research revealed that people have more control over their luck than they might think. He identified some basic principles that anyone can use to begin creating their own good luck.

Imagine the worst

It might seem counter-intuitive, but imagining how your bad luck could have been worse can make you luckier. When faced with a scenario about being shot in the arm by a bank robber, "lucky" people in Wiseman's research often commented on how the situation could have been worse. Unlucky people, however, remarked how typical it would be for them to be in a bank during a robbery.

It's a matter of perspective and resilience, says Fisher. "Lucky people have a capacity to adapt to adversity without it being totally diminishing. They are more likely to be able to turn a situation around and ask what they have learnt, even if it didn't work out the way they wanted."

Expand your social circle

Extroverts are usually luckier than introverts, says Fisher. "Extroverts tend to meet more people, have a wider social circle and keep in contact with those [they meet], therefore the chances of good fortune seem to be higher."

Research has found that lucky people smile twice as often and make more eye contact than unlucky people. "This means extroverts' social encounters tend to be more fruitful and so generate more opportunities," adds Fisher.

Look out for opportunities

In Wiseman's research, participants were asked to look through a newspaper and find how many photographs were inside. Unlucky people took around two minutes, whereas lucky people took just seconds. The difference? On page two was a sentence in large print: "Stop counting – there are 43 photographs in this newspaper." When the unlucky people were told to look through the newspaper again for anything unusual, they spotted the message immediately.

"Lucky people expect good things to happen," says Fisher. "They acknowledge and build on good things, whereas [unlucky people] are often not open to seeing opportunities that are there."

Accept the unexpected

Lucky people are more open to new experiences and less bound by convention. "Good fortune often happens if you are willing to try something new," Fisher says. As we age, we can become more rigid in our ways and our thinking; however, those who are flexible and open to changing their nominated path tend to be luckier.

Make a self-fulfilling prophecy

At the end of his research, Wiseman wondered if he could engineer good luck. He asked a group of volunteers to spend a month behaving and thinking like a lucky person. They would be open to new experiences and to breaking their normal routine and would trust their instincts and visualise themselves being lucky and adapting to adversity.

The results were impressive; at the end of the month, 80 per cent of volunteers reported that they felt happier, more satisfied and luckier than before.

Try your luck

• Take a new route to work.

• Strike up a conversation with someone you don't know.

• Tune the radio to a station you don't normally listen to.

• Say yes to an opportunity you'd usually hesitate about.

• Practise seeing things as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

• Spend a few moments each day recalling things that went well.

• Visualise being lucky before an important meeting or telephone call.