Is it true that we make our own luck? Up to a point, I think it is – and it’s a skill well worth cultivating. Obviously, factors like being born in a safe area of an affluent country are purely a matter of chance; some people encounter less adversity on their journeys through life than others do – but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Neither is this about blame. Bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it and who have done everything that could be expected to invite good fortune, and this post is absolutely not about suggesting they must have done something wrong and brought it on themselves.
As outlined in this useful article about bad luck, a crucial element is whether we have an external or internal locus of control – in other words, whether we take a fatalist view of life or assume responsibility for shaping our own destiny. When I read this, I realised that bringing my locus of control inside myself has played a major part in my recovery from depression. Of course, I am not responsible for everything that happens to me – random stuff befalls all of us all the time – but I am responsible for how I respond to and deal with it. This is not responsibility in the sense of its being my fault; it’s responsibility in the sense that, contrary to what I believed until recently, I actually have control over my own life.
When my locus of control was external, I used to have all sorts of strange explanations for how and why things panned out as they did. I thought people were purposely doing me down and the world was against me. I came to think I must be cursed and every time I lost, broke, spilt or spoilt something, I imagined the Devil laughing.
Overlying this was the conflicting phenomenon of my magical thinking, through which I believed (and occasionally still do) everything that went wrong was somehow my fault. I’m sure this is the result of my mother having an external locus of control and me being the handiest person to blame.
As soon as it dawned on me that I could take control and steer my life in a different direction, I began to feel happier. For me, and I guess for a lot of people, depression was largely based on lack of control. It was a state of feeling stuck and passive, a deep dark pit in which I was abandoned and unable to climb out. I believed I couldn’t climb out, so I couldn’t. The realisation that I could, in fact, do it by myself was basically all it took for me to do it.
All this goes some way to explaining how we can make our own luck. If we allocate out control for everything that happens by blaming other people, the government, the Devil, we come to see ourselves as victims and consider ourselves unlucky. On the other hand, if we take life’s blows on the chin and remember that all experience is useful, we can learn and grow and start to take advantage of – and appreciate – the good things that come our way. This is how we become ‘lucky’.
Professor Richard Wiseman has written a book about what constitutes luck and concludes that it’s all about attitude. (You can read more here.) While it all sounds slightly simplistic, it also makes intuitive sense that people who are more confident and relaxed have better luck than those who are tense and anxious. In a way, this is all very encouraging: we can all be lucky, if we just loosen up and seize the day. The problem is, if we’re feeling anxious it can be extremely difficult to behave in the laid-back, open way Prof Wiseman prescribes.
Entrenched patterns of thought and behaviour are not going to be changed overnight. It’s taken me several years of hard work to lift myself out of depression and prepare the ground for metamorphosis into someone lucky. I’m making progress in the area of taking opportunities but I’m not pushing myself too hard. For me, there’s a fine line between not allowing myself to hide too long in my comfort zone and spurring myself on to the verge of collapse. While I’m still finding it an effort to interact with the world, I’m not going to be able to rise to every occasion and never miss an opportunity, and I’m convinced it’s better to accept this and build up slowly, rather than trying to run before I can walk. But I’m getting there and I’m enjoying the process.
To sum up, if you feel you’re blighted by misfortune, I encourage you to have a good hard look at what’s behind this and think about how you can take more control and shift your perspective. Change how you handle things and observe how your luck changes in response.