A British couple have just won £1m in the EuroMillions lottery for a remarkable second time. In doing so, they have beaten odds of more than 283 billion-to-one. So are they exceptionally lucky, and is there anything we can all do to increase the chances of experiencing such good fortune?
A few years ago I conducted a large-scale investigation into luck. I studied the lives of more than 400 people who considered themselves exceptionally lucky or unlucky. There was remarkable similarity among the volunteers, with the lucky people always being in the right place at the right time, while the unlucky volunteers experienced one disaster after another.
I asked everyone to keep diaries, complete personality tests and take part in experiments. The results revealed that luck is not a magical ability or the result of random chance. Nor are people born lucky or unlucky.
Instead, lucky and unlucky people create much of their good and bad luck by the way they think and behave. For example, in one study we asked our volunteers to look through a newspaper and count the number of photographs in it. However, we didn’t tell them that we had placed two lucky opportunities in the newspaper. The first opportunity was a half-page advert clearly stating: “STOP COUNTING. THERE ARE 43 PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS NEWSPAPER.” While a second advert later on said: “TELL THE EXPERIMENTER YOU’VE SEEN THIS AND WIN £150.”
The lucky people tended to be very relaxed, more likely to see the bigger picture, and so quickly spotted these opportunities. In contrast, the unlucky people tended to be very anxious, more focused on detail, and so missed the advertisments. Without realising it, both groups had created their own good and bad fortune.
Eventually we uncovered four key psychological principles at work in lucky people:
1. They create and notice opportunities by building a strong social network, developing a relaxed attitude to life, and being open to change.
2. They tend to often listen to their intuition and act quickly. In contrast, unlucky people tend to overanalyse situations and are afraid to act.
3. They are confident that the future will be bright, and these expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies because they help motivate lucky people to try even when the odds are against them. Unlucky people are sure that they will fail and so often give up before they have begun.
4. They are highly resilient, and keep going in the face of failure and learn from past mistakes. Unlucky people get dragged down by the smallest of problems and take responsibility for events outside of their control.
In a second phase of the project, I wanted to discover whether it was possible to change people’s luck. I asked a group of 200 volunteers to incorporate the four key principles into their lives by thinking and behaving like a lucky person. The results were remarkable. Within a few months around two-thirds of the group became happier, healthier and more successful in their careers.
Lucky people tend to be very relaxed, more likely to see the bigger picture
But is it possible to use these techniques to win the lottery? Unfortunately not. Lotteries are purely chance events, and no amount of wishful thinking will influence your chances of success. However, the good news is that being lucky in your personal life and career is far more important than winning the lottery.
Oh, and one last tip. If you are feeling bad about never hitting the jackpot, spare a thought for Maureen Wilcox who, in 1980, bought tickets for both the Massachusetts lottery and the Rhode Island lottery. Incredibly Maureen managed to choose the winning numbers for both lotteries. Unfortunately her Massachusetts numbers won the Rhode Island lottery and her Rhode Island numbers won the Massachusetts lottery. She didn’t win a penny.