Science says feeling lucky depends on your point of view

Are you a lucky or unlucky person? It depends. New research finds that the chances of us being lucky in life depend less on the outside world and more on our personality.

In a recent essay for Aeon magazine, philosopher Steven Hale details the upcoming research that he did with experimental psychologist Jennifer Johnson for the journal Philosophical Psychology. They found that there is a “significant positive correlation” between your optimism level and how lucky you see others.

” ‘Luck’ is no more than a subjective point of view taken on certain events, not a genuine property in the world that we discover,” Hales said his research suggests.

Luck is subjective, science suggests

To test our judgment on luck, Hale and Johnson got participants to take a Life Orientation Test to determine to what extent participants were optimists or pessimists. Then they had participants read about real-life stories of “ambiguous luck” — such as survivors of nuclear bombs and explosions — to see how their views about fortunes would affect how they lucky they saw others. Were these survivors lucky to be alive or unlucky to have had such bad things happen to them?

The researchers found that the more optimistic participants were, the more they saw these stories as lucky. Pessimists were more likely to discount the positive within these stories and focus on people’s misfortunes.

The subjectivity of luck raises the possibility that luck is all in our heads. Hale suggests that luck may be just a “turn of phrase, and not something we should take seriously – an outcome that would come as a real surprise to gamblers, athletes, job seekers and stockbrokers, all of whom see their histories as saturated with luck.”

Learning that luck is a self-fulfilling prophecy may seem disheartening for those of us who want to magically win the lottery or have an awesome job fall in our lap.

We cannot game luck, it turns out. But the good news with realizing that luck is entirely subjective is that it helps us realize that we have agency over our own lives. We cannot always control the career decisions — the bad bosses, the terrible layoffs, the sudden promotions, the helpful mentor — that befall us. But we can control how we respond to them.