Rowan Pelling: Talk to strangers. Accept unlikely invitations. You never know your luck...

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The Independent Online

Feeling lucky? I only ask because I have been nosing through some early chapters of The Luck Factor, "a scientific study of the lucky mind and its power to transform lives". The author, Dr Richard Wiseman, has carried out research to see whether some people really do have the Midas touch while others find all their best efforts turn to slurry. He advertised for individuals who felt themselves to be particularly lucky or unfortunate and whittled thousands of respondents down to 400 case studies. As it turned out, the lucky bastards really were lucky and the poor sods deserved our pity. But luck had nothing to do with benign or malignant forces in the cosmos and everything to do with psychological factors. In other words, as Murray Walker never tires of saying when Michael Schumacher romps home first for the zillionth time, "You make your own luck in this game".

Wiseman's case histories drive the point home. Emma, a 47-year-old housewife, scooped prize draws everywhere. She seemed to be a darling of the gods until you note that she was entering more than 150 competitions a week. Wiseman's research showed that "creating chance opportunities" and "maximising their potential" was one of four key factors involved in good fortune – so Emma was a prime example of someone who had maximised the chances of fate presenting her with a Honda Civic. The other three "luck factors" were: being an eternal optimist whose high expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies; following intuitions and making major decisions on the basis of gut instinct; and looking on the bright side of failure.

Wiseman's Luck Factor may not quite be the life-defining principles of Socrates, but I found it reassuring. For starters, it bears out my lifelong belief that forward planning is a dangerous activity which organises you away from fate's kinder interventions. My lack of health insurance, a pension scheme or an ISA are not, as my husband suspects, signs of wilful recklessness; no, these are the pared-down signs of a life poised to reap good fortune. Furthermore, my life's two great maxims – always talk to strangers and always say yes to unlikely invitations – are exactly the sort of strategies Wiseman recommends for maximising luck (though my friends were certain I devised them to end up with an axe in my forehead in an alley).

When I was an unemployable humanities graduate with a third-class degree, I met a sparky Bostonian at a swimming-pool party. She quizzed me ferociously and then said, "there's a job going where I work". A fortnight later I found myself standing in front of Ian Hislop at Private Eye, being interviewed for the position of editorial assistant. By a further stroke of luck, the Eye crowd were too lazy to interview anyone else – say, someone with typing skills.

The other encounter that changed my life happened in a sleazy drinking den in Notting Hill. A man I didn't know asked me to accompany him to Croatia (then in the throes of war) with a friend of his. As a result of this trip, I stepped out with the Notting Hill stranger for two years, changed jobs and, er, met my husband. This is luckier than it sounds, since my husband is a party-shy misanthrope and the only place I could possibly have met him is the workplace. Furthermore, my current boss is the "friend" from the Croatia trip, who later asked me to join his erotic empire, from which sprang The Erotic Review. I can't see what other trajectory would have taken me from a school for daughters of missionaries to a filthy magazine.

I am not so good, I have to confess, at Wiseman's last cateogry, always looking brightly upon personal disaster. My mother, however, is a world-beater at it. Only she could say of a misadventure that befell my younger brother, "Something very lucky happened this week – Hereward fell down a manhole". I was paralysed by laughter before she could tell me that the luck was in his lack of injuries. Where Wiseman's book offers surer comfort is in its innate suggestion that luck will not necessarily run out. This is great news for those of us who feel we've got a certain date with cirrhosis, the tax man or a great white shark.

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