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Is Luck a Skill?

According to psychologist Richard Wiseman, writing for the Telegraph, luck is an easy skill to learn.

My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

Wiseman describes an experiment with a newspaper, to determine whether "lucky" people could determine the number of photographs in the paper more quickly than "unlucky" people.

I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: "Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper." This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

It appears to be teachable, too.

I asked a group of lucky and unlucky volunteers to spend a month carrying out exercises designed to help them think and behave like a lucky person. These exercises helped them spot chance opportunities, listen to their intuition, expect to be lucky, and be more resilient to bad luck.

One month later, the volunteers returned and described what had happened. The results were dramatic: 80 per cent of people were now happier, more satisfied with their lives and, perhaps most important of all, luckier.

Based on Wiseman's research, it might seem "lucky" is just a synonym for detail-oriented, spontaneous, and positive-thinking. But is that all there is to the story?

It's one thing to say in the abstract that we'll all be happier if we look for opportunities. But this can easily degenerate into a "blame the victim" mentality. The person who grew up in a thrid-world slum without access to a formal education—are they simply lacking awareness of the opportunities all around them? People who have been imprisoned and/or tortured because their religion or their sexual orientation is illegal in their country—could they have escaped such a fate by listening more to their intuition? The child born addicted to crack—did they simply fail to expect to be born into luckier circumstances?

I don't want to dismiss Wiseman's findings entirely, because—all things being equal—he does make a compelling case. But the reality is that all things are not equal. All the luck in the world will not level the playing field. It will take a conscious group effort by society at large to recognize the worth of every individual; and it will take a commitment from those who are most privileged to lift up those who are most vulnerable, to put them in a place where they are able to chase their own luck.

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