“A lot of smart, industrious and hard-working people admit that luck played a role in their success,” Carl Richards observed recently in the New York Times. (Among the best examples is Warren E. Buffett, who credits the “Ovarian Lottery.”) “Yet for some reason, many of the lucky ones refuse to credit luck,” says Richards. Having pride in your accomplishments is a powerful and positive motivator. It keeps you going when the times get tough. However, our pride can also cause us to recast the stories of our success in such a way as to downplay the role of luck while enhancing the role of our hard work, talent, intelligence, etc.

“Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.”

E. B. White (attributed)

When you’re running or bicycling into the wind or up an incline, you’re aware of it. But you’re rarely aware of those times when the wind is at your back or you are running down a gentle slope. “That’s just a fundamental feature of how our minds, and how the world, works,” according to Robert Frank, author of the book, Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy.

Despite the examples of Buffett and many others, many people seem reluctant to credit the role of luck in their success. Perhaps it is because they feel it devalues their talent or hard work, observes Richards. And for many, the more success they achieve, the more they want to dismiss the role of luck. According to the Pew Research Center, people in higher income brackets are much more likely than those with lower incomes to say that individuals get rich primarily because they work hard. Wealthy people tend to attribute their own success to hard work rather than to factors like luck or being in the right place at the right time.

The positive role of crediting luck’s role in your success

A growing body of research suggests that crediting the role of luck in your success can lead to a greater sense of gratitude and, in turn, a long list of positive physical and psychological benefits, including generosity.

Social scientists have been studying the benefits of gratitude intensively for almost two decades. Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami are leading researchers into the role of gratitude and have found that it produces a remarkable array of physical, psychological, and social changes, writes Frank.

“In one study, Emmons and McCullough asked one group of people to keep diaries in which they noted things that had made them feel grateful, a second group to note things that had made them feel irritated, and a third group to simply record events.

“After 10 weeks, the researchers reported dramatic changes in those who had noted their feelings of gratitude. The newly grateful had less frequent and less severe aches and pains and improved sleep quality. They reported greater happiness and alertness. They described themselves as more outgoing and compassionate, and less likely to feel lonely and isolated.

“No similar changes were observed in the second or third groups.”

Go ahead, say it: “I am very, very lucky.”

We shouldn’t rely on luck, but let’s stop kicking it in the teeth when it does show up, encourages Richards.  “Go ahead. Practice saying out loud, ‘I am very, very lucky.’ And guess what? You can say those words and still have working hard, learning more and daring to play in traffic be really important.”

“By recognizing the role luck has played in our lives, we can go forward with just a little more humility and a little less ego. That is a great investment for long-term success.”

Carl Richards

VIA | NYTimes.com


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