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Are some people just “lucky” in love…and life?

I have a single friend who tells me she is unlucky in love. She meets guys who say they will call, but never do. And the ones who do call…have less than virtuous motives.

Meanwhile, she has girlfriends who can meet a cute guy while working out at the gym, strike up a conversation, and set up a date for the evening. My friend knows that everything is in God’s hands, and she is a woman of strong faith–but still, sometimes she can’t help but feel a bit unlucky.

Some people consider themselves lucky because of random events that turn out fortuitously—they tend to win at poker, or get amazing job offers out of the blue, or because their lives changed for the better as the result of a chance encounter. Chance? Luck? … Or Providence?

Men and women of faith attribute to Providence what others might call luck or chance. The Catechism tells us, “By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 302). Yet how often it seems that God’s providence is a great mystery and the particular circumstances of our lives seem random and out of our control.

Much more is in our control than we think. Over the past ten years Richard Wiseman, PhD, at the University of Hertfordshire in England, has conducted experiments on the phenomenon commonly known as “luck” or “chance.”

Dr. Wiseman found volunteers who described themselves as “lucky” —they were satisfied with their lives, believed they were very fortunate and had experienced a lot of good breaks. He also found those who felt they were “unlucky”—for whom life seemed a series of disasters, and nothing seemed to turn out right.

Through a number of fascinating experiments, Wiseman discovered that there is no such thing as luck—which you might have guessed. But he also found that not much is due to random chance. In fact, only 10% of life’s occurrences are truly random. Those who believe themselves to be lucky or fortunate (Christians would say “blessed”), in fact create their own good fortune by their thoughts and attitudes. So, is good luck simply the power of positive thinking? Not exactly.

In one fascinating experiment, volunteers were asked to count the number of photographs in a newspaper. The unlucky people took several minutes to count the photographs, while the lucky ones took mere seconds. On the second page of the newspaper, in two inch high letters, was the message: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs.” The “unlucky” people were so anxiously looking for the photographs that they completely missed the clue!

In another experiment, a self-described lucky man entered a coffee shop where he “by chance” found a 5 pound note on the ground and then met a wealthy entrepreneur, with whom he entered into a business arrangement. He left the diner and reported on his good fortune to the researchers. When the self-described unlucky woman entered the same coffee shop (set up identically by the researchers) she stepped right over the 5 pound note taped to the ground, sat down next to the millionaire, but spoke to no one.

On another occasion, Wiseman asked his volunteers what they would think if they were in a bank when an armed robber enters and shoots them in the arm. Would they consider this a good or a bad thing? Lucky or unlucky? Those who considered themselves unlucky said it would be very unlucky. The “lucky” people said they would feel lucky—blessed—because they might have been killed!

So, our perception of our good or bad fortune is indeed, a matter of our positive or negative attitude. But, there is more. Wiseman identified several factors that contributed to the “lucky” people’s good fortune: they generally have positive expectations (thinking that being shot in the arm would be lucky), are attentive to their surroundings (finding the 5 pound note), and have a resilient attitude. They also tend to seek connections with other people and are relaxed enough to take advantage of unusual situations (befriending the wealthy stranger in the coffee shop). The more positive your expectations, and the more open you are to life’s potentialities, the more likely you are to experience good things!

Perhaps Christ was alluding to this phenomenon in the parable of the talents, when He said, “For to everyone who has, more will be given…but from the one has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29).

“Lucky people tend to have a somewhat relaxed view of life. They are less concerned with mundane details and more prone to look at the bigger picture. Ironically, by trying less, they see more,” writes Wiseman in his article “Seeing the Gorilla.” (http://www.forbes.com/2007/10/09/)

In Christian terms, this is what counting our blessings can do! As Christ tells us, we need never be anxious, but always should trust in God’s providence (Matthew 6:25-34). With Saint Paul, we can rejoice always (1 Thes 5:16).

So long as we think we are buffeted about by random circumstances (even those we may attribute to God’s permissive will) we are likely to feel anxious, disheartened, and even victimized by circumstances. But when we are open to the possibilities of life, with a positive, relaxed attitude (trusting always in God’s providence) and are mindful of our interrelatedness as human beings, we can become truly lucky…or blessed.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Mark-91496 February 2, 2009

    Thanks for this interesting an enlightening article. I will pursue Dr. Wiseman's article momentarily, as well.
    The late Earl Nightingale, a philosopher, who had his own radio program on Chicago's WGN for many years, had an insightful definition of luck. He said, "Luck is where preparedness meets opportunity."
    To Mr. Nightingale, luck is comprised of two components–that which we control, and that which is out of our control. The "lucky" ones are those do who whatever is necessary–within their control–to be ready for their chance encounters. Of course, they can't create true chance encounters, which are out of their control, However, they anticipate, and even expect, fortuitous chance encounters, which Mr. Nightingale refers to as serendipitous events.
    In relating Mr. Nightingale's insights to those of Ms. Bennet and Dr. Wiseman, it is easy to see that serendipity is what Ms. Bennett says we Catholics call Providence. (I don't believe that Mr. Nightingale was a Catholic, but he referred often to having had a strong Christian faith.)
    The connection of preparedness to Dr. Wiseman's positive attitude can be made, also. A positive attitude is helpful, and perhaps even necessary, for one to prepare themselves for their goal. Being prepared can instill confidence, which would create, reinforce, or enhance a positive attitude. In addition, a positive attitude (Faith and Hope) would be required for one to anticipate and expect a chance/serendipitous/Providential encounter.
    Lastly, it is conceivable to consider that preparedness could include a willingness to converse with strangers, which is what Dr. Wiseman's lucky ones did. We might call this Love.

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