Better Luck Next Time

In the summer of 1945, Tsutomu Yamaguchi went to Hiroshima on a business trip by his employer. On August 6, while he was there, the Enola Gay dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb less than two miles away. Despite being in the “instant death zone,” Yamaguchi escaped with burns, temporary blindness, and ruptured eardrums. He immediately headed back home to Nagasaki to be with his family and reported to work on August 9. While Yamaguchi’s supervisor was treating his tale as crazy talk, the Fat Man bomb detonated over Nagasaki — again less than two miles away. Yamaguchi somehow survived that blast too, and eventually died in 2010 at the age at 93.

After reading this, what’s your take? Was Yamaguchi lucky to survive two atomic blasts, or unlucky to be injured by two atomic blasts? A growing body of research suggests that your perception of the world influences your view of Yamaguchi’s luck, as well as the luckiness of other people and ultimately yourself.

In a forthcoming paper for the journal Philosophical Psychology, Jennifer Johnson and Steven Hales at Bloomsburg University reveal that people who tend to be optimists would see Yamaguchi’s case as an example of good luck. Conversely, those with a pessimistic point of view would likely see it as bad luck.

Meanwhile, Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, in a 10-year study tested 400 people who self-identified as either lucky or unlucky. In one experiment, he asked them to report how many photographs were inside a newspaper. People who saw themselves as unlucky took about two minutes to count the photos. But they missed what the self-described lucky people didn’t- an ad on page two that said, “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” The same result happened when he offered a $250 prize.

Wiseman concluded that people who notice more opportunities have the experience of feeling luckier because they can act on more chance events to their benefit. His personality tests also revealed those who viewed themselves as “unlucky” were more tense and anxious compared to “lucky” people, and suggested that anxiety disrupts our ability to notice the unexpected, thus reducing our chances to act on it.

In another set of studies by Psychologist Lysann Damisch of the University of Koln, Germany’s, golfers who were told that they were using a “lucky ball” performed significantly better than those who weren’t. Similarly, subjects solving an anagram persisted longer, had more confidence in their efforts and ultimately performed better when they held a lucky charm they brought from home.

The power that perception has on the outcomes of individuals in luck experiments is what also has the story of Yamaguchi showing up on the internet lists of the world’s unluckiest and luckiest people. This is because luck is not an energy outside of ourselves that can positively or negatively influence the outcomes of our lives. Instead, it rests entirely in our minds as a view of ourselves and what we expect to experience in the world around us.

Thankfully, if we find ourselves taking an unlucky view of our circumstances, there is a way to reverse it. It can be as simple as keeping your awareness in the present moment and finding something to appreciate in your situation. Appreciating the present state opens our eyes to opportunities sitting right in front of us. It helps us feel more grateful for the blessings surrounding us and expands our awareness to recognize even more good things. When we feel appreciative, we also tend to be more confident and persist longer in pursuit of our goals.

To get yourself started down the path of appreciation, consider employing some of these methods:

1. Adjust Your Perspective. Write down 200 distinct or unique things in your life that make you feel lucky. These could be things that have happened in the past, people you’ve met along the way, or current attributes about your life that you enjoy. It may be tempting to stop after 20 or 50 but commit to making it all the way to 200. Your view on your life will never be the same.

2. Stop Comparing Yourself To Others. It’s easy to compare ourselves to those who have what we want and to feel discouraged that we don’t have it. Instead of allowing this unhealthy practice to go unchecked, switch your focus to understanding that, if those people can achieve the thing you seek, it’s possible for you as well. Release the blame, shame and jealousy you feel and appreciate that the person can enjoy what they have and someday you will too.

3. Downsize to the Essentials. With the way products are marketed to us, it’s no wonder we feel the need to acquire stuff to compensate for how we feel inside. However, when you reduce your possessions to things you consider essential and limit your future buying, it has a way of opening your mind to appreciate the things you chose to keep. Research shows that people don’t necessarily feel happier because they own more stuff; it’s more often life’s experiences, adventures and all the people we meet along the way that have the more profound impact.

4. Take a Break and Put the Phone Down. When you’re continually looking at a little screen, you miss the abundance of opportunities surrounding you. If you resist the urge to go to your phone when you’re in line for coffee or on the subway, you can increase your chances of meeting a person who could change your life, or of stumbling on a long-desired opportunity.

As the Roman senator Seneca once famously states, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” But part of the preparation — perhaps even the most essential element — is to shape your perceptions so that you can recognize the abundance of opportunities around you. No magic in life guarantees good things will happen to you. That power rests entirely in your mind, and the choices you make in how to view and respond to the events of your life.

This week try out each one of these tactics to begin shifting your attention and generate a “lucky” state of mind. In the process, you might discover your worldview opening up, and find more to appreciate about your life and circumstances, and those around you. What could be luckier than that?

“The best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself.” — Douglas MacArthur, American Five-Star General (1880-1964)

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