In Aeon magazine, Hales wrote, “Luck might not be a genuine quality of the world at all.” Fine. But neither is beauty or justice. At the same time, the Bloomsburg researchers discovered “a significant positive correlation” between people’s temperaments and how lucky they thought others were. “One of the things this means is that the more optimistic you are, the more you think others are lucky.” For “optimistic,” I might substitute “happy-go-lucky.”
“Luck is a mere façon de parler, or turn of phrase,” Hales wrote (using the Irish, of course). Of anyone who believes they’re lucky, he went on, “their luck might well be, in a very strict psychological sense, entirely of their own making.”
Of our own making! So you make your own luck by looking for it, but you also make it with lucky turns of phrase and lucky casts of mind. You see a friend who recovered from Covid as lucky for recovering, rather than unlucky for getting sick in the first place. And, if you’re a happy-go-lucky type, you groove luck into your world by saying it, over and over. Wow, you were lucky. Your sister had some stock and made you soup? What luck! Your system rallied? Boy, that’s great genetic luck right there.
Einstein didn’t like the idea of God “playing dice” with the world. Lucky for Einstein, dice, in a world determined by luck, are not thrown by anyone, much less a God who is said to have Yahtzee skills. Instead, the chips fall where they may—and really they just fall, unpredictably, spontaneously. We then look for patterns in them.
For those seeking self-improvement, and who isn’t, I’m not just freestyling here. Living by a doctrine of luck promotes at least five excellent things that have got to be good for your brain.
1. Active skepticism about “meritocracy.”
2. Recognition of the utter contingency of one’s own advantages. An act, if I may, of “checking your privilege.”
3. Appreciation for the spontaneity, serendipity, and unpredictability of the universe. Nicholas Rescher, the illustrious philosopher at the University of Pittsburgh, calls luck “the brilliant randomness of everyday life.”
4. A way to practice “gratitude” without doing calligraphy in $75 journals. All you have you do is say, every time it hits you that life is OK and could be otherwise, “What luck!”
5. A way to make more luck in your life.
Luck really is the best creed. It makes no truth claims, requires no messiahs or gurus. It’s not religious, partisan, or ideological. It doesn’t just allow for surprise; it’s nothing but surprise. It’s charming. It may even be the secular answer to grace, but it comes with laughs rather than piety.
When you get good at luck, you can even find a spot of luck in a heat wave or your team’s defeat. But don’t be a psychopath. Luck is not about looking on the bright side. It’s much more minor. It’s about just being—and observing that, of all the prospective organisms in the broken but intriguing world, you happened, against the odds, to be one.
This article appears in the September issue. Subscribe now.