All that's needed is a sprinkling of luck. Is luck an actual thing?

Have you noticed how we wish people luck before an interview, an important exam or a sports match? What we probably mean is that we hope the person has prepared well, is feeling fit and able and that on the day, the circumstances are such that it brings out the best in them. So many factors can’t be controlled in the situation, but we are hoping that ‘luck’ basically means things go their way.

Then we have rituals that we believe bring us luck. We are not sure how this could be explained but we think that by doing certain things, we are giving ourselves some kind of power or control.

Michael Jordan for instance, wore his college practice shorts under his NBA kit. Rafael Nadal lines up his water bottles in exactly the same way at the start of every match - to the left of his chair. “It’s a way of placing myself in a match, ordering my surroundings to match the order I seek in my head”, he explains; nevertheless, many put this action down to superstition.

These random acts however, don’t prove that luck is why they succeed. Elite sportsmen of their calibre work extremely hard to develop their talents and have unique mindsets that enable their success – attributes that most people don’t have to such a degree.

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it”; wise words indeed, frequently attributed to America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, that imply we create our own luck.

Success is often linked with innate traits like talent, tenacity, mindset, grit and self-discipline. But Scott Kaufman, a Colombia University Psychologist adds, “While I have found that a certain number of traits – including passion, perseverance, imagination, intellectual curiosity, and openness to experience – do significantly explain differences in success, I am often intrigued by just how much the variance is often left unexplained”.

Many recent studies, including one by Cornell University economist, Robert Frank, point to how there is ‘systematic evidence of the role of luck’ such as what month you’re born in making it more or less likely you will become a CEO or a professional athlete.

It’s not easy to measure luck. After all, it comes down to chance and randomness. But an in-depth study was conducted at the University of Catania in Italy, involving simulations of individuals with ‘wealth distribution we see in the real world’ alongside the ‘talent distribution’; what the researchers observed was that it wasn’t ‘the most talented that became the wealthiest’ but ‘rather those regarded as the luckiest’.

The simulation involved looking at 1000 virtual people over a period of forty years. Some of these imaginary people were given lucky breaks, whilst others were hit by misfortune – as would happen in the real world. Concluding, the researchers, led by Professor Alessandro Pluchino, wrote, ‘It is evident that the most successful individuals are also the luckiest ones, and the less successful individuals are the unluckiest ones.

Believing in luck encourages us to grab opportunities, to have hope and to push ourselves. Aside from doing our utmost to strive for desirable results, it seems that there is a very real element that we can't control. You never know when it’s about to sprinkle its magic on you.

Suggested Links:

The Role of Luck in Life Success Is Far Greater Than We Realized - Scientific American Blog Network

What Role Does Luck Play In Success? (forbes.com)

World's most successful people are simply the luckiest | Daily Mail Online

Why Luck Is the Silent Partner of Success - Knowledge@Wharton (upenn.edu)