Stacking the Cards in Your Favor

Some people seem to have all the luck.

They're always in the right place at the right time, getting all the breaks, living the good life.

But is it blind chance? Are they fated to be blessed by good fortune?

What exactly makes a person lucky?

Dr. Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire has studied hundreds of lucky and unlucky people for more than a decade. According to Wiseman, "If there's a single message from the research … to a very large extent, you're creating a lot of your own luck."

Creating Luck

Wiseman explained that it was important to distinguish the difference between luck and chance. For example, some illnesses and accidents are completely out of our control.

In his book "The Luck Factor," Wiseman writes about essential traits of lucky people. "There's a very large percentage of events where we'll say, 'Oh, that was really lucky. I went to a party, bumped into this person, changed my life.' … In fact, lots of those events very much are to do with the way in which we think, the way in which we behave."

According to Wiseman, lucky people encourage good fortune by believing in their own luck: They are optimistic and resilient.

Actress Rachel Reenstra has been struggling with the daily rejection that comes with working in Hollywood for more than 10 years, and never got her "lucky break."

Yet Reenstra did exactly what Wiseman says lucky people do. She never gave up and visualized where she wanted to end up. "I created an ideal scene," she said. "I am traveling the world. I am enjoying getting paid lots of money hosting a show. … I didn't know how it was gonna happen, but I knew that's what I wanted."

So Reenstra took a proactive role in making her dream happen. She took her life savings — even though it meant going into debt — and began traveling the world, videotaping herself with animals. Finally one day her agent sent her a letter telling her that Discovery was looking for its next female adventurer. "I looked at that letter and I went, 'Well, this is me, and they need to know this is me!'"

Reenstra made a demo tape of her travel adventures, and after auditioning dozens of actresses, Discovery's "Animal Planet" announced the host of its new show "Ms. Adventure" -- Rachel Reenstra.

Ready for Luck

Wiseman explained that another essential trait of the lucky was that they were always prepared. "They were the ones that put a huge amount of effort, so that when that break came along, they were there."

As part of a BBC documentary on his study, Wiseman conducted hidden-camera experiments with self-described lucky and unlucky volunteers. In one trial, he planted money on the street to see who would pick it up. The lucky people tended to notice the money more than the unlucky people.

He said, "The lucky people are very open to these unexpected opportunities. They're a bit more laid-back. They're seeing the bigger picture."

Another experiment demonstrated that lucky people also tended to attract other people. Wiseman planted a lucky and an unlucky person in a cafe, and then sent subjects in to buy a cup of coffee and sit down. Almost every subject decided to sit next to the lucky person, a successful businessman.

"It's a very subtle difference in body language," he said. "The lucky people have very open postures, a lot of eye contact, drawing people towards them or smiling, asking about them and not talking about themselves all the time."

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