Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Gorkie
When I was a kid, night after night I would beg Mum to read What Good Luck! What Bad Luck! by Remy Charlip to me. The book follows the adventures of Ned – what good luck, he receives an invitation to a surprise party; what bad luck, the party is far away; what good luck, his friend lent him an airplane; what bad luck, the motor exploded; what good luck, there was a parachute in the airplane; what bad luck, there was a hole in the parachute. And so it goes.
I was fond of the idea that if we were having a bad day, it will all be okay as the slate would be clean the next. We could turn the page and find ourselves some better luck.
But what has pervaded into adulthood is a belief that luck is purely external and out of our control – that there are good days and bad.
When we think of our luck as something imposed on us like a shadow, it makes it all too easy to spiral into defining ourselves as purely lucky, or unlucky. We find ourselves saying, of course this always happens to me – I’m so unlucky.
By defining ourselves as something like unlucky – or unattractive, unworthy, untalented, unmotivated, unhappy – we search for evidence to confirm it so. As Marcus Aurelius put it: “The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it.”
The truth may be that luck is purely a perception – and perhaps our lack of it a mental pattern that we become addicted to. In Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, Dr. Joe Dispenza draws on quantum physics to explain how our thoughts determine our reality.
“In time, we unconsciously become addicted to our problems, our unfavourable circumstances, or our unhealthy relationships. We keep these situations in our lives to feed our addiction to survival-orientated emotions, so that we can remember who we think we are as somebody.”
The habit of thinking you’re unlucky
If we remain addicted to a thought or belief that we are unlucky, or recall our unlucky past experiences over and over, we bring those thoughts into the present and continue to create the same reality day after day.
Our daily routines and habits can reinforce this sense that what has been, will always be. As Dr Dispenza continues, as we follow the same motions each morning, commute to work on autopilot, and let the day unfold with the expectation it will be the same as every other, we are essentially remaining plugged into our past self.
“When you think from your past memories, you can only create past experiences. As all of the ‘knowns’ in your life cause your brain to think and feel in familiar ways, thus creating knowable outcomes, you continually reaffirm your life as you know it. And since your brain is equal to your environment, then each morning, your senses plug you into the same reality and initiate the same stream of consciousness.”
There is so much we do each day that we are unaware of – by the time we reach the age of 35, eight-five per cent of our behaviours are unconscious, making our personality almost set in stone.
Of course automatic behaviours serve a purpose – if we had to consider every detail of our lives we would barely make it out of bed. But how can we expect anything different to happen in our lives when our unconscious thoughts, habits, experiences, friendships, and emotions are the same?
It’s possible to be jolted out of our ‘unlucky’ perceptions or memorised sense of self through awareness. As the late Irish poet John O'Donohue wrote, “Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our time will become.”
Instead of mindlessly following the motions every morning, we can become mindful of both our internal and external world. Our mind has the ability to paint our own days – or at least our own perceptions and reactions to what is happening around us.
As Yassmin Abdel-Magied said in our recent interview: ““The only thing you can control in your life is how you respond to a situation. Literally everything else is outside your control. If you realise that, yes, maybe certain circumstances may be pushing you to respond in a certain way but, at the end of the day, you have the choice.”
Making room for chance in your daily routine
Another antidote to getting stuck in a patch of perceived bad luck is being open to surprise. Luck by definition isn’t something you find or acquire, rather it is informed by chance. If you open yourself to chance encounters – instead of operating on autopilot – you can redefine your experience with luck.
We cannot control our chances in life – being born into privilege, for example – but we can be receptive to various nuances in daily life.
In What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, Tina Seelig wrote: “Lucky people take advantage of chance occurrences that come their way. Instead of going through life on cruise control, they pay attention to what’s happening around them and, therefore, are able to extract greater value from each situation…”
Just as our daily habits can set us in cruise control, we can also cultivate a different set of habits to spring us out from the everyday – we can make trying new things a habit to resemble a ‘lucky state of mind.’
We can experiment, we can attend an event we would ordinarily skip, we can converse with new people, we can do something that scares us, or simply dry ourselves in a different order after a shower.
Not only do these changes incite surprise, but they also make our lives more memorable. These are the things that wake us up – when we think a new thought, meet someone who makes our eyes spark, and do something we thought we couldn't.
As Seelig continues: “Lucky people are also open to novel opportunities and willing to try things outside of their usual experiences. They’re more inclined to pick up a book on an unfamiliar subject, to travel to less familiar destinations, and to interact with people who are different than themselves.”
Tomorrow could be your lucky day
When we cultivate surprise and allow for chance, we are ultimately embracing uncertainty. We don’t really know what tomorrow holds, sometimes even the next hour, but we pretend to. Our habits and routines create an illusory cage of certainty, preventing us from running towards what we do not know and making it work to our favour.
We need to learn to let our thoughts shape experiences, rather than our experiences shape our thoughts. “Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well,” said Epictetus.
After all, isn’t that what true luck is? It’s not an event like winning the Tattslotto – the adaptation principle proves people simply adapt to this new normal and feel no happier, or ‘luckier’ than before. Rather, luck is the ability to see things as a nice surprise and embrace it.
If when we wake each morning, instead of following the script that tells us we are unlucky, or unattractive, unworthy, untalented, unmotivated, unhappy, we open ourselves up to the unknown, the unexpected, and see each unfolding moment as a surprise, our lives can change course.
Our days do not need to be deemed entirely unlucky if we see a little good luck in everything. Much like Ned in Remy Charlip’s tale, we can say yes to an invitation to a surprise party, and despite the hiccups along the way, discover the party was really for us.