I wanted to use the wake of St. Patrick’s Day to discuss the spirit and very nature of luck. My family was never particularly superstitious, but I grew up in a very Irish home, so the word luck was often heard. The more I grew and studied religion and psychology, the more I learned that there might be something of substance to luck rather than just superstition.
First of all, I believe that most superstitions come from reason or habit. In high school, I would always wash my sweats and spandex immediately after my wrestling matches to prevent getting skin diseases common in wrestling. In the same load I would add the pair of underwear that I was wearing during the match, and consequently, I usually ended up wearing the same pair of underwear every match. So like many athletes, I would joke about having my lucky underwear. In a similar regard, when you really think about what’s commonly considered “bad luck,” you probably often think of things that are just bad ideas. If you open an umbrella, you’re likely to break something. If you break a mirror, you may be finding shards of it for a long time. If you get in the habit of walking under ladders, something is libel to fall on you’re head.
Luck can be a powerful thing for the same reason that religious people are generally happier and live longer. If you live your life expecting to be blessed, you are more likely to notice blessings all around you, and in the same way, if you expect certain behavior to bring negative consequences, you won’t take certain risks. Please don’t misunderstand this as me trying to discredit all faith as superstition. My point is that what ultimately matters the most is our perspective on life, whether we get that perspective from faith or not.
Several studies have been done on this subject. I once heard of a study where lucky people and unlucky people where compared. It’s important to point out that what constituted the subjects as lucky was simply their own reports, although most had examples of occurrences in their lives that they believed were as good as evidence to there good fortune or lack of it. In this study, the researchers would interrupt the subjects’ lives in subtle ways to see how they reacted. At one point they would even leave $100 dollar bills on the ground to the subjects’ paths to work. Usually the lucky people would bend down and pick them up while the unlucky people would be so convinced that nothing good would ever happen to them that they would just keep on walking.
This is why I believe that our perceptions create our realities and not the other way around. Often times, our unconscious perceptions are more likely to work to prove us right than to make us happy. If you believe that a charm will bring you good fortune, than maybe that charm has simply become a reminder to recognize good fortune when you see it. Maybe that charm becomes a reminder to create your own good fortune.
I believe the way to create happiness is to become a pathological optimist. Practice finding the good in everything, everyone, and everyday. After all, Einstein himself said, “I would rather be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right.” If Einstein valued positivity over intelligence, I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt me to do the same.