My Nana was one of those people who just seemed naturally lucky. In the 1960s and ‘70s, she regularly entered contests and won prizes that included cash, a television, a mink jacket and even a new car. She’d frequently hit the jackpot when she played the slot machines, and she always seemed to be in the right place at the right time when it came to growing her real estate business.
Was she charmed? Perhaps. But her lifelong winning streak was more likely the result of her habits, says Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in England. He’s been studying luck for more than two decades and says it’s not just chance; there’s a science to it.
"Luck is generally thought to be an external force—sometimes we’re lucky and sometimes we’re not—but it’s possible to make your own luck," says Wiseman, who wrote The Luck Factor (Hyperion; 2003). "To a very large extent, lucky and unlucky people are responsible for much of the good and bad fortune they encounter."
Through his research, Wiseman found that lucky people share four characteristics, and—lucky for us—anyone can adopt these habits and change their fortune:
While lucky people often chalk up their good fortune to chance, what’s actually going on is that they’re good at creating and noticing opportunities, says Wiseman. They do this in various ways, including networking and being open to new experiences.
"Without realizing it, lucky people behave in a way that maximizes chance opportunities in life," says Wiseman. "They talk to lots of people, attract people to them, and keep in touch with people. These actions result in a massive ‘network of luck,’ opening up a huge potential for chance opportunities."
In contrast, unlucky people are often more introverted, preferring to spend time on their own. Unlucky people also embrace routines, sticking with the familiar and avoiding surprises.
Lucky people, however, like to keep things interesting by varying their choices. They try a new route to work, for example, or pick a different coffee shop each morning.
"Lucky people often go to considerable lengths to introduce variety into their lives," says Wiseman.
Lucky people make decisions by following their intuition. In his research, Wiseman found that 90% trusted their intuition when it came to personal relationships, and 80% believe it played a vital role in their career choices.
But they take it a step further by boosting intuitive abilities by practicing techniques such as meditation.
"The idea isn’t to try to develop intuitive feelings during the meditation itself," says Wiseman. "Instead, use the time for clearing your mind of thoughts and distractions. After meditation, when your mind is quiet, your intuition will feel at its best."
Lucky people are optimistic about the future. In Wiseman’s research, he found that people who are lucky have higher expectations from life than unlucky people. They believe that unpredictable and uncontrollable events will consistently work out for them; unlucky people believe events outside their control will always work out against them.
"Lucky people are convinced that the future is going to be fantastic, and their expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies," says Wiseman. "These expectations exert a considerable influence over people’s thoughts and behaviors. They determine whether people try to achieve their goals and how long they persist in the face of failure."
Lucky people do experience misfortune, but they cope with it differently than unlucky people. For example, Wiseman says lucky people imagine how things could have been worse and compare their experience with a far worse scenario.
Lucky people also transform the event into something good by finding a positive aspect. They don’t dwell on the bad luck, instead they take a long-term approach to life and assuming that something better is ahead.
"Together these techniques explain their uncanny ability to cope with and often even thrive when ill fortune comes their way," he says.