How to Get Lucky
proof that you make your own
By Richard Wiseman
Originally published in Skeptical
Condensed and Republished in Reader’s
Digest, June, 2004
For centuries people have recognized
the power of luck and have done
what they could to seize it. Knocking
on wood, dates back to pagan rituals
aimed at eliciting help from powerful
tree gods. We still do it today,
even though we no longer worship
tree gods. Why do we pass this
down from generation to generation?
The answer is the power of luck.
Live a Charmed
why some people are consistently
lucky and others aren’t,
I advertised in national periodicals
for volunteers of both varieties.
Four hundred men and women from
all walks of life – ages
18 to 84 – responded.
Over a ten year period,
I interviewed these volunteers,
asked them to complete diaries,
personality questionnaires and
IQ tests, and invited them to my
laboratory for experiments. I found
that there are some basic principles
that explain how and people get lucky – seizing
chance opportunities; creating self- fulfilling
prophecies through positive expectations;
and adopting a resilient attitude that
turns around the perception of bad luck.
Open Your Mind
chance opportunities: Lucky people
regularly have them; unlucky people
To determine why, I gave lucky and
unlucky people a newspaper, and
asked them to tell me how many
photos were inside. On average,
unlucky people spent about two
minutes on this exercise; lucky
people spent seconds. Why? Because
on the paper’s
second page – in big type – was
the message “Stop counting: There
are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” Lucky
people tended to spot the message.
Unlucky ones didn’t. I put a
second one halfway through the paper: “Stop
counting, tell the experimenter you
have seen this and win $250.” Again,
the unlucky people missed it.
The lesson: Unlucky
people miss chance opportunities
because they’re too
busy looking for something else. Lucky
people see what is there rather than
just what they’re looking
This is only part of the story.
Many of my lucky participants tried
hard to add variety to their lives.
Before making important decisions,
one altered his route to work.
Another described a way of meeting
people. He noticed that at parties
he usually talked to the same type
of person. To change this, he thought
of a color and then spoke only
to guests wearing that color – women
in red, say, or men in black.
Does this technique work? Well, imagine
living in the center of an apple orchard.
Each day you must collect a basket
of apples. At first, it won’t
matter where you look. The entire orchard
will have apples. Gradually, it becomes
harder to find apples in places you’ve
visited before. If you go to new parts
of the orchard each time, the odds
of finding apples will increase dramatically.
It is exactly the same with luck.
Relish the Upside
Another important principle revolved
around the way in which lucky and
unlucky people deal with misfortune.
Imagine being in the Olympics.
You do well and win a bronze medal.
Now imagine a second Olympics.
This time you do even better and
win a silver medal. How happy do
you think you’d feel? Most of us think we’d
be happier after winning the silver
But research suggests athletes who
win bronze models are actually happier.
This is because silver medallists think
that if they’d performed slightly
better, they might have won a gold
medal. In contrast, bronze medallists
focus on how if they’d
performed slightly worse, they wouldn’t
have won anything. Psychologists call
this ability to imagine what might have
happened, rather than what actually happened, “counter-factual” thinking.
find out if lucky people use counter-factual
thinking to ease the impact of misfortune,
I asked my subjects to imagine being
in a bank. Suddenly, an armed robber
enters and fires a shot that hits them
in the arms. Unlucky people tended to
say this would be their bad luck to be
in the bank during the robbery. Lucky
people said it could have been worse: “I
could have been shot in the head.” This
kind of thinking makes people feel better
about themselves, keeps expectations
high, and increases the likelihood of
continuing to live a lucky life.
Learn to Be Lucky
Finally, I created
a series of experiments examining
whether thought and behavior can
enhance good fortune.
First came one-on-one meetings,
during which participants completed
questionnaires that measured their
luck and their satisfaction with
six key areas of their lives. I
then outlined the main principles
of luck, and described techniques
designed to help participants react
like lucky people. For instance,
they were taught how to be more open
to opportunities around them, how
to break routines, and how to deal
with bad luck by imagining things
being worse. They were asked to
do specific exercises for a month
and then report back to me.
The results were dramatic: 80 per-cent
were happier and more satisfied with
their lives – and luckier. One unlucky
subject said that after adjusting her attitude – expecting
good fortune, not dwelling on the negative – her
bad luck had vanished. One day, she went
shopping and found a dress she liked. But
she didn’t buy it, and when she returned
to the store in a week, it was gone. Instead
of slinking away disappointed, she looked
around and found a better dress – for
less. Events like this made her a much
Her experience shows how thoughts and
behavior affect the good and bad fortune
we encounter. It proves that the most
elusive of holy grails – an effective way of taking
advantage of the power of luck – is
available to us all.
Southwest Division Conrad Melton,
Chairman Rev. 10/03