Some people think that they are lucky, and I’m sure that it’s because they tend to remember the good things that have happened to them, while tending to forget the lousy things. That’s a good habit, and anyone who thinks like that really is lucky.
Other people think that they are very unlucky, and I’m sure that something like the reverse is happening in these cases. They are remembering very clearly every single terrible thing that has ever happened to them, and discounting every time that fate delivered a fortuitous result. This latter is often the way of people who suffer from depression, although which came first, the depression or the bad attitude, is open to discussion.
I may be an interesting case study on this subject. I am certainly depressed, and I have been for six decades now, but I fall into the favored category described in paragraph one, at the head of this post. I remember every time it stopped raining fifteen minutes before I had to leave a building and stand at a bus stop, and so on down the line. I couldn’t guarantee it, but this tendency in me could be due to a conscious decision on my part. I question that conclusion because it flatters me, and it is not my nature to be flattered, but I do think that I have tried over the years to believe that I was a lucky person. I’d recommend that exercise of mind to everyone, because people who believe themselves to be lucky often create good luck for themselves.
Then comes another component to the mathematics of luck: when good ideas, or bits of luck, appear in front of your eyes, you must be able to spot them and realize their importance. Unfortunately, I lack this particular skill. I have, rather, a great talent for allowing great ideas to sail straight over my head.
Here’s an example. I recently taught a class at a remote campus where I had taught classes many times previously. It's a class in legalese, "English for Lawyers." Every time I had taught at this campus, and in fact virtually every time that I have taught classes at remote campuses, my class was scheduled for one p.m. to five p.m. on either a Saturday or a Sunday. There is a reason for this consistency. For the students, it is an eight-hour day studying the same subject. Two of them in fact, Saturday and Sunday. There is a regular Thai professor for the class, and I am sent in for one four-hour session every term to give them a listen to a native English speaker. My lesson is substantive, and it's part of the class material, but it's a chance for them to hear what the words really sound like. The regular professor takes the morning session on those days, because he can then either go to another city to teach the next day or return to Bangkok before the evening. On this occasion, I was scheduled for eight a.m. to noon.
As is my custom, I asked the students for a volunteer to drive me back to town after class, and as usual, a student quickly stepped forward. I was planning to return to my hotel, as always, awaiting my flight the next morning. We got into his car and he turned to me and said, “so, to the airport, then?” It had completely escaped me that since this class was ending at noon, I could proceed directly to the airport and return to Bangkok on the 2:00 p.m. flight. I would have been home by 4:00 p.m. that day, instead of late the next morning.
Here’s my excuse: teaching classes that end at 5:00 p.m. leaves me a bit fatigued, and I don’t feel like running straight to the airport and getting home at nine or ten at night. Without thinking about it, I bought my return ticket for the following day. I had missed a perfectly good chance to spot a good idea.
Here’s another bit of luck, though: I no longer get angry with my self for such oversights. I’m much more accepting of my imperfection these days.
To sum it all up, my advice is as follows:
1. Be sure to remember the times when all of the chips fall your way. Every piece of good luck is precious, and its memory should be nurtured;
2. Be sure to remain alert for any situations that call for a readily accessible good idea. Keep your wits about you, and keep your eyes open for ways to make your life easier; and
3. Don’t spoil your equilibrium by getting angry every time it starts to rain fifteen minutes BEFORE you must leave a building and stand at a bus stop, or every time that you fail to realize a good idea until it’s too late.
Remember that good luck and bad luck are only states of mind. Our lives are almost certainly like a game of poker in which seven people sit around a table and play serious poker games* for many hours. In a game like that, everyone will take turns being dealt lucky hands of cards. Yes, everyone. Being dealt hands that are good, bad, or indifferent will fall into some kind of a bell curve, and the curve will be the same for all players. Unless one or more dealers is cheating, no one will consistently be dealt great hands while someone else is consistently being dealt crapola.
In our lives, like in the poker game, we will all experience good luck and bad luck to more or less the same degree. To be lucky, you must know good luck when you see it! There are guys who could lose a poker game after getting three eights in the deal, probably because they got bluffed out of the game by someone with a pair of tens. Sometimes we make our own bad luck, too.
*”Serious Poker Games,” like five or seven card stud, or five card draw. There are other good ones. These are games of skill. Avoid poker games that rely too much on bluffing, like Texas Hold ‘Em, or games that feature elaborate rules or gimmicks, like wild cards or pools of shared cards. Skill has flown straight out the window if you can lose with a full house. And never let a dealer call a game that you have never played before. Sit that one out. Oh, and never play poker with anyone who can do card tricks. Or at least, don’t let him deal, ever. Maybe I need to write a post exclusively about poker.