What is Luck?

As an author of a book on the subject, it is a question I'm often asked: What is luck? Wikipedia says, "Luck or fortuity is good or bad fortune in life caused by accident or chance, and attributed by some to reasons of faith or superstition, which happens beyond a person's control."

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It can be good or bad, but I would say that what we typically refer to as luck is not always "beyond a person's control." Random chance is always at work in the sense of things happening which we cannot explain at the moment. But there is a way to understand and explain some of what we call good luck or bad luck.

The Wikipedia entry adds that there are many interpretations of luck, and has this to say about the Buddhist perspective; "Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, taught his followers not to believe in luck. The view which was taught by Gautama Buddha states that all things which happen must have a cause, either material or spiritual, and do not occur due to luck, chance or fate. The idea of moral causality, karma (Pali: kamma), is central in Buddhism.

I can agree with the idea that all things have material causality (and that this suggests a general though less-direct moral causality). But consider what isn't said in that, and what nobody can claim. What isn't said is that causes are so complex that we cannot claim to fully understand them. Thus, while the "bad luck" of your plane crashing has causes, knowing that does not help you predict the crash and so avoid it. This is why so much of what we see as random chance, we call good or bad luck, because we just don't have an explanation of the causes.

On the other hand, even if we can never fully understand a complex web of causation, this does not suggest that there is no control over these happenings for which we use the label "luck." This is easiest to understand if we start with something simple, like the proposition that we are more likely to succeed in business if we attempt to do so repeatedly. Persistence, then, is on principle which when implemented, will increase the odds of "making it," or "getting lucky."

I know many people would love to believe that there is some magic power that brings luck, or that there is some practice or technique which will guarantee it, but life is complex. Interestingly it is much easier to guarantee failure. Do nothing and get nothing is a more certain principle, for example. So there are no absolute guarantees, but when you stop looking for them and you start doing the key things that improve the odds of good fortune coming your way, you almost certainly will be luckier.

In other words, the question of what is luck is not really that important compared to the question of what to do to have more of it. That "how" is what my book is about. And if putting the odds in your favor isn't inspiring enough for you--if you need a guarantee--my book isn't for you. Hunt for the magic power if you must, but others will be putting the principles of my book into practice, and most of them, most of the time, will be getting lucky.

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