Saint Patrick may have chased Ireland’s snake infestation into the sea, but his day has become so much more than celebrating that feat. It has become a day to celebrate by drinking green beer, wearing green, listening to bagpipes in parades, catching leprechauns, and of course, looking for lucky shamrocks. Every year people try to get a slice of the Irish luck, but is it something you’re born with, or can we make our own luck?
Experimental psychologist, Richard Wiseman created the “luck lab” at the University of Hertfordshire in England, to find out if some people are naturally luckier than others, or is it something our minds have convinced us to believe. He started by testing the theory by surveying 700 subjects to see if those who believed they were lucky—would they be more likely to win the lottery?
However, Wiseman’s findings were not as exciting as one might hope. Although lucky people were twice as confident than those who believed themselves to be unlucky, regarding to winning the lottery, there was no difference in who actually won.
Wiseman’s next step in the study focused on the subject’s level of satisfaction with their lives. He asked individuals to rank themselves on how content they were with their family life, personal life, financial situation, health, and career.
“People who consider themselves lucky are far more satisfied with all areas of their lives than unlucky or neutral people,” Wiseman revealed of his findings.
Wiseman’s team then had the subjects take a “big five” personality scale, which measured agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and openness.
The results found no difference between lucky and unlucky people regarding agreeableness and conscientiousness, however, they found a significant difference in extroversion, neuroticism, and openness.
“There are three ways in which lucky people’s extroversion significantly increases the likelihood of their having a lucky chance encounter,” Wiseman explains. “Meeting a large number of people, being a ‘social magnet’ and keeping in contact with people.”
People who think of themselves as lucky actually tend to smile twice as often and engage in more eye contact than those who think they are unlucky. This can lead to more social encounters, generating more opportunities, and increased chances for a lucky occurrence.
The neuroticism portion of the test measured how anxious or relaxed someone is. The study found that the lucky subjects were half as anxious as the unlucky ones. Since lucky people tend to be more relaxed, this allows them to be more open to noticing chance opportunities—even when they aren’t expecting them.
Wiseman noted that, “lucky people are open to new experiences in their lives…they don’t tend to be bound by convention and they like the notion of unpredictability.” They study found that the “lucky” subjects traveled more, encountered novel prospects, and welcomed unique opportunities.
However, in the end, luck seems to simply be a state of mind. Wiseman found that those who expected good things to happen, were more likely to embrace them when it did. Even when things didn’t turn out lucky for these optimists, they tended to turn bad breaks into good fortune.
So, this St. Patrick’s Day, go out and make some luck of your own! You never know what opportunities might come sliding down the rainbow.
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