What's Luck Got to Do with It?

By Shyama Parui

Imagine that you are driving your car to run a quick errand. As you move to the turn lane to go left, a pickup truck comes speeding from the opposite direction and hits the front of your car. You step out of the driver's seat shaken but unhurt. The car's headlights and hood are smashed, and you can smell the strong windshield fluid as it drips on the ground. After exchanging insurance information and completing other formalities, you make your way home, park the car and still make it to the airport on time for your flight to India.

Would you consider yourself lucky that you escaped without a scratch and that you have insurance and enough finances that you can repair your favorite vehicle? Or would you consider yourself as unlucky because of all the cars on that very road, at that very moment, it was your car that was hit by an irresponsible driver, who by the way only had a little paint scratched off from his bulky road bully otherwise known as a full size pickup truck. I guess it would depend on your belief in the idea of luck and the perspective you take.

The concept of luck is widespread, although it may be referred to in different ways. “Bhagyo Bhalo", “Naseeb Accha Hai" are used to describe people with good fortune. Some religious beliefs strongly link this to the fate you are born with and regard it as a reward for good deeds performed in one's past life. Astrology, with its many calculations related to the movement and position of celestial objects attempts to predict moments that are ripe for success. Hindu calendars identify certain days as auspicious for important life decisions such as weddings, the purchase of a home or start of a business venture. On specific days Goddess Lakshmi, worshiped as the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, is more likely to shower you with blessings. With divine approval your chances of winning a hand at poker or purchase of valuables can potentially increase.

Festivals such as Dassera and Diwali boost sales of precious metals and consumer durables as these occasions are considered promising. The buying frenzy stemming from that belief probably started an ancient version of “Black Friday". It makes me wish I had timed the purchase of my kitchen appliances better as each one of those appliances turned out to be problematic. I refuse to believe that my misdeeds caused the breakdown of my fridge right before a party at home, because that would mean overlooking the failure on the part of the manufacturer to make good quality products.

If you are willing to accept luck as an influential factor in your life, it leads to an examination of its power. Is it finite, inherent or subject to your own actions? I remember watching a thought-provoking episode of the X-files from years ago that implied that there was a finite amount of luck in the universe. One person's windfall meant another's downfall. If the world's luckiest person was aware of this, he or she would probably be afraid of winning the lottery with the highest prize money as it might bring pain to someone else, perhaps a loved one. While there may be outliers, the horoscopes of most people seem to be sprinkled with the same number of favorable predictions about fortuitous gifts.

If we aggregate our life's experiences, we may realize that the scales of good and bad luck are fairly balanced in our kismet. On one hand, an individual may have been blessed with exquisite beauty, inherited prized paintings from a distant relative, and have a loving spouse, but on the other hand that same individual could be hurt by property damage due to flooding, poor health from a mysterious illness or the loss of a job right before vacation. When things go well, we often forget how “lucky" we are. Instead, we take things for granted and expect them to keep getting better.

Let's look at another possibility. What if the figurative Lady Luck doesn't exist at all? And, what if we truly are the creators of our own destiny? Psychologists often talk about the role of expectations and how positive expectations both implicit and explicit, affect performance. So, when parents think that their child will be strong and successful if they are born a Leo or in the Chinese Year of the Dragon, they might behave in ways that support greater success. For example, these parents may invest more money in the child's education, offer encouragement and ultimately pave the path for a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In fact, according to Rebecca Weber's article called, “Make Your Own Luck" published in Psychology Today (2010) chance plays a large role in love and work. How you embrace that unplanned and perhaps risky encounter is what differentiates you from an unlucky person or situation. Surprisingly, people who consider themselves “lucky" tend to find more opportunities. This interesting outcome has been observed in controlled studies conducted by Richard Wiseman, somewhat of a leader in this field. So, even if your friends laugh at your superstitious rituals that make your favorite football team win or scoff at your possessiveness of a lucky interview suit, you can carry on with confidence. Believe you are lucky, and you just might get the break you were looking for.

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Shyama is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: shyamashree_parui@hotmail.com