{This blog is actually a rather long summary (sorry!) of a book I found interesting, largely because it ties nicely into some other reading and life learnings I’ve done lately and integrate into my coaching programs in some way. This blog is actually a summary of of my own ‘Readers’ Digest version of Wiseman’s book; If you’d like to have a copy of my full summary, drop me a note.}

The essence of Wiseman’s research is that no one is inherently ‘lucky’ in an external ‘fated’ sense. We make our own luck by adopting a set of behavioural traits in our everyday life: Maximize Opportunities through Extroversion, Openness, and Emotional Stability; Act on our Lucky Hunches by trusting our intuition; Expect good fortune by holding an optimistic attitude and being prepared when opportunity strikes; Turn Bad Luck into Good by looking for the silver lining and not dwelling on the current negative state of affairs.

This book (The Luck Factor, Richard Wiseman, 2003) came on the scene mid-decade and was fairly widely reported in both the popular press (popular theme after all) and in the serious journals. Wiseman is a psychology professor at the University of Herefordshire (PhD University of Edinburgh), after an initial career as a magician! (the psychology of conjuring?). He was interested in the psychology of the unusual.

He realized that luck was not a matter of superstition as many imagine it is. There must be other factors that contributed to some people having more frequency of positive outcomes than others. What are these factors that lucky people seem to have more of, and unlucky people less of? Thus began his research and then this book.

His book itself is intended as a serious professional book, annotated and referenced, but it is a rather light read and could easily be only half as long to get his ideas across. He lades the book with anecdotes and stories of both lucky and unlucky people who were part of his research. The book also purports to be a sort of self-development manual: you too can train yourself to become a luckier person.

And he’s right. Not only is it possible to increase the chances of you having more frequent positive outcomes in your life, but by becoming a ‘lucky’ person you will be valuing your life as more positive, contented, happy.

Hence, Wiseman’s research is very consistent with the recent developments in the Positive Psychology Movement.

Here are Wiseman’s definitions:

a lucky person: someone for whom seemingly chance events tend to work out consistently in their favour: win more than raffles more often than might be expected, meet more people who subsequently play an important role in their lives in achieving their ambitions and goals. (To what extent are you a Lucky Person? rate yourself on this definition on the above scale: 1 – 7.)

He asked people to rate their lives in the following factors as 1, Completely Dissatisfied to 7, Completely Satisfied: (Go ahead, rate yourself):

My life in general
My family life
My personal life
My financial situation
My health
My career

Add your ratings for a total score. Low scores are between 6 and 26; medium scores are between 27 and 32; high scores are between 33 and 42. Wiseman states that previous research suggests that people’s life satisfaction is relatively stable over time and is related to their levels of happiness and quality of life. (The International Positive Psychology Association would agree. See also Gallup’s survey: http://www.well-beingindex.com/.)

Wiseman used this life satisfaction survey with his selected sample of Lucky, Neutral and Unlucky people. Not surprisingly, people who rated themselves as Lucky (3+ or higher on Wiseman’s luck scale, scored higher on every Life Satisfaction factor compared to Neutral and Unlucky people. The reverse was also true, Unlucky people scored lower than Neutral people on all six Life Satisfaction Factors.

So if Lucky people have very satisfying lives, what makes them Lucky? And, can the rest of us get some of it? Or is it all just karma?

Even though Wiseman is very interested in the paranormal, and extrasensory perception, he has found, so far, no evidence that Lucky people have any extra-ordinary perceptual abilities.


Wiseman argues it is not just ‘luck’, some intangible external force. It is not karma. Lucky people make their own luck.

He argues there are four meta factors that contribute to people having more good fortune than the average, or what could be truly attributable to chance.

1. Maximize Opportunities

Lucky people create, notice and act upon the chance opportunities in their life. (Interestingly, this principle goes further than Seneca (“Luck is the convergence of opportunity and preparedness.”): it’s not just the convergence of opportunity and preparation, it also requires action.)

Even though Lucky people often themselves attribute their good fortune to chance, in fact they have ‘lucky’ personalities. That is to say, they possess higher than usual tendencies in three of the five major personality dimensions: Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, (positive) Neuroticism (Emotional Stability), Openness, and Extroversion.

{I will write another blog on CANOE in luck and life.}

It turns out Lucky people score higher than average on Extroversion, Openness, and Emotional Stability (Low Neuroticism). In so being, they tend to:

1.1 build and maintain a strong ‘network of luck’ (Three things, actually: they meet a large number of people; they are social magnets (meaning, other people are attracted to them); and they keep in contact with people (they not only build social networks, they actively sustain them).) ;

1.2 have a relaxed attitude towards Life (Scoring low on the Neuroticism scale seems to afford lucky people with the ability to notice and act upon opportunities that may arise.);

1.3 are open to new experiences in their lives (By increasing the number and frequency of new events in their lives, and having a relaxed attitude so that they notice, the chance of a fortuitous event increases.).

2. Listen to your Lucky Hunches

Lucky people make successful decisions by using their intuition and trusting their gut feelings. Unlucky people may over-analyse, raining doubt on their first impressions, delay and fail to act. Malcolm Gladwell (Blink) would call this ‘thin slicing’, the ability to see patterns in very specialized ways and then just ‘know’ what they mean to them. And, it isn’t just that Lucky people are more willing to act on their hunches, they actually ‘train’ themselves to become more intuitive.

3. Expect good fortune

Lucky people’s expectations about the future help them fulfill their dreams and ambitions. Lucky people and unlucky people achieve or fail to achieve their ambitions because of a fundamental difference in how they think about both themselves and their lives:

3.1 Lucky people expect their good luck to continue in the future. (Research suggests that holding an optimistic view of the future had the power to become self-fulfilling prophesies. The failures are only transitory and so lucky people persist to work towards their dreams. And they achieve them.
{These findings are very consistent with Martin Seligman’s study of optimistic and pessimistic people. Learned Optimism, 1995.)

3.2 Lucky people attempt to achieve their goals even when the chances of success seem slim; and they persevere in the face of failure.

In echoes of Seneca (and Leacock: “I don’t believe in luck but I find the harder I work the more of it I have.”), lucky people work harder! And their hard work pays off.

Unlucky people expect things to go badly wrong and so often give up before they begin or rarely persist once started. They expect failure, so why bother. {I see this a lot in career transition counseling. The ones who see the situation as an opportunity, an adventure, are keen to do the work. The ones who feel themselves a failure, don’t make the effort. Perhaps they fear confirmation of their own feelings of failure, and it becomes self-fulfilling.}

3.3 Lucky people expect their interactions with others to be lucky and successful.

This is the final type of self-fulfilling prophesy that distinguishes lucky people from unlucky ones. In some ways related to the extroversion factor in Principal One, lucky people enjoy social engagement, and expect that each encounter is likely to turn out well.

4. Turn your Bad Luck into Good

Lucky people are able to transform their situation from bad luck to good fortune. They have the ‘ability’ to find the silver lining in things.

4.1 Lucky people see the positive side of their bad luck

4.2 Lucky people are convinced that any ill-fortune in their life will, in the long run, work out for the best

4.3 Lucky people do no dwell on their ill-fortune (Unlucky people tend to dwell on their misfortune, they tend to think they are personally ‘cursed’, that they cannot escape the misfortune in their lives. Lucky people believe the opposite.)

{These findings are consistent with Seligman’s work on Authentic Happiness. Happy people tend to let go the negative events of the past and draw positive feelings from positive events in the past. Interestingly though, happy people do not dwell on the past at all, either positive or negative. Like lucky people happy people are optimists and focus more on their positive expectations of the future.}

4.4 Lucky people take constructive steps to prevent more bad luck in the future.

Last Thoughts

Wiseman’s book is in the end rather simplistic. To thoughtful people it is pretty obvious: we make our own luck. For superstitious people it may allow them to become more self-aware, but I doubt it. Belief is not rational and like religion is not easily changed. Lucky people who believe they are lucky for extra-ordinary reasons will continue to believe it without really examining their behaviour to see that there may be a relationship between the number of lottery tickets they buy and the frequency of their winnings. And people convinced of their own bad karma are not likely to see it any other way.

To me there are two main lessons in Wiseman’s work, besides the obvious credit he deserves for examining the question of luck from a more scientific basis. First, to paraphrase Seneca some 2000 years ago, we make our own luck.

Second, Lucky people are most often no more fortunate in their lives due to random external factors than the rest of us; but they are ‘luckier’ than us in one very different way. They are happier people. They have a positive outlook on life and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Wiseman’s book very nicely corresponds with the work done in the positive psychology movement, and I wonder if he is in touch with this community. His findings are very similar to Martin Seligman’s seminal work, first with respect to optimism/pessimism and its relationship to depression, (Learned Optimism, 1995) and his later work on happiness (Authentic Happiness, 2002).

Wiseman lists a website for his book: www.luckfactor.co.uk but he seems to have lost control of it to a commercial clearing house for self-help.

For more on Wiseman the reader is referred to:


and, for Authentic Happiness (Seligman) and Positive Psychology: