Be happy: How to make your own luck
Be Happy: How to Make Your Own Luck
We're taught to believe that some people are simply born lucky, when in reality, that's just a convenient excuse to lean back and take it easy, rather than try to exert some control over our destiny. After all, if you aren't one of the "chosen" fortunate ones, what can you possibly do about it?
Well, actually, quite a bit. The fact is, more and more psychologists are finding out that it isn't the hand you're dealt that's important in life but how you play your cards. To put it another way: We're all capable of making our own luck.
"What we think of as chance and luck are not at all the same thing," explains Richard Wiseman, Ph.D., a psychologist from the University of Hertfordshire and author of The Luck Factor, who has done a decade of research on the topic -- enough to convince him that no more than 10 percent of life is actually random or pure chance. "The rest is luck," he says. "And luck is determined by your attitude toward life, by what you put out into the universe and how you respond to the results." Carol Sansone, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, agrees: "What appears to be luck is really the result of perceptions, personality traits, choices, and actions. And all of that is within your control." Read on and discover how to put good luck firmly in your grasp.
Consider Yourself Lucky
Want to improve your luck? It could be as easy as adjusting your attitude. Studies show that people who consider themselves lucky actually tend to be -- it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. That's because positive thinkers are always keeping their eyes peeled for fortuitous situations, and they're more likely to pounce on them when they arise.
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In a study conducted by Wiseman, researchers placed some money on the sidewalk in the paths of different people -- some who claimed to be lucky, and others who considered themselves unlucky. The "lucky" people noticed the money and picked it up; the "unlucky" people walked past the cash.
"Serendipitous types are upbeat and optimistic," says Sansone. "They look for luck in all kinds of events, and they expect good outcomes." It's a numbers game: If you believe you have a good shot at winning, you're more likely to participate in the football pool at work or the guess-how-many-jelly-beans-are-in-the-massive-freakin-jar contest at the mall. The more you take advantage of these chance opportunities, the more you improve your odds.
Lucky You: "As they say about the lottery, 'You have to play in order to win,'" says Daniel "Chip" Denman, a statistician at the University of Maryland. If you don't take chances and put yourself in a position to have something positive happen, it won't. And pay close attention to what you're putting out there: "The reactions you draw from others are a huge factor in determining your own luck," says Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of California at Riverside. "If you exude positive energy, people will respond to you positively."
Shift Your Focus
Hey, there's certainly nothing wrong with being a conscientious worker and pouring your heart and soul into a worthwhile project. But by tuning out the rest of the world, you may be missing out on another way to reach your goal. People who are less flexible tend to overlook opportunities by staying too focused on only one path, according to Elizabeth Nutt Williams, Ph.D., a psychology professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland. "That type of tunnel vision may lead to faster results," she says, "but being willing to explore unforeseen opportunities can lead to different and unexpected outcomes, and sometimes better results in the long run."
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Lucky You: Give it a rest, OK? Every once in a while, take a time-out from whatever project you've been slaving over. Not only will taking a breather clear your head and refresh your mind, but it may bring you in contact with something (or someone) that can help with whatever it is you're working on. Inspiration can come from pretty much anywhere: After-work margaritas with coworkers can lead to some helpful piece of office gossip or help you get a better understanding of what makes your boss tick. A few minutes of Web surfing might uncover a recent news story or study that supports a thesis you're writing.
Take More Risks
People who consider themselves lucky tend to take more chances, strike up more conversations with strangers, and follow more job leads. Instead of telling themselves, There's not a snowball's chance in hell that's going to happen, they tell themselves, That looks kind of cool. Maybe I should check it out. And they get stuff -- good stuff, like a bump up to first class (simply because they asked for it), a cute boyfriend (who says you shouldn't make the first move?), or a cool job (they had the moxie to ask for a sit-down with the boss). And it gets better: Good outcomes increase the belief that you can accomplish whatever you set out to do, which fuels an appetite for future risk.
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Lucky You: You know the annoying little voice playing inside your head that's telling you not to do something? The one that sounds suspiciously like your hypercritical mother, your best frenemy, or your downer of a 10th-grade guidance counselor? Well, risk-taker types learn to tune out all the negativity. Follow their lead by listening to your gut and refusing to retreat (even if you have a few doubts). Instead, ask yourself this: What's the worse that can happen if I try this and fail? Chances are, it isn't all that bad. Then ask yourself, What will I regret more months or even years down the road: taking the risk or playing it safe? You already know the answer to that.
Brush Off Failure
Yes, failing sucks. But if you're going to let a critic's harsh words, a few (OK, numerous) impersonal rejection letters, or a job promotion that never materialized knock you out of the game -- or make you reconsider your goal -- you're making a serious mistake. An important trait among lucky people, according to Lyubomirsky, is that they don't get terribly fazed when something doesn't go according to plan, and they tend to move quickly to the next step. "They have an adaptive way of dealing with failure," she explains. "They don't dwell on the negative or let obstacles get in the way of taking another chance later." Serendipitous types know that there are a lot of different paths for getting wherever it is they want to go. And even if their dream doesn't pan out, there's always another (usually better) opportunity just around the corner.
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Lucky You: Instead of sulking over a few nasty setbacks, use them to your advantage. Ask yourself, What have I learned from these experiences? What do I need to do next? Remember: Life's little roadblocks aren't the end, they're merely part of the journey as you make your way toward your ultimate goal. They're opportunities to tweak your talents and iron out the kinks so you can try again. And kick butt.
Break Familiar Patterns
Turns out, change really is good. Easygoing people who have more of a go-with-the-flow approach to life -- and who are more willing to alter their daily or weekly routines -- open themselves up to more opportunities and fortuitous encounters.
Lucky You: Promise yourself that every couple of days, you'll break away from your usual patterns or, as Denman puts it, "shuffle the deck of your daily activities." Even a small adjustment -- going out to lunch instead of brown-bagging it, taking an alternate route to work, trying a different fitness class -- will double the number of people you come in contact with and increase the chances of something good happening. "Taking a step out of the ordinary can be a great way to find good fortune," says Denman. But, he warns, you have to be mentally prepared to look for the good in any given situation. So keep your eyes peeled. You won't see potential opportunities if you're lost in your own little world.