Luck - an Overview of a Very Human Concept Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Luck - an Overview of a Very Human Concept

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See a penny, pick it up.
All day long you'll have good luck.

- Old English rhyme

Many people think that luck, or being fortunate, has a direct effect on their lives. Luck, often seen as the probability of something good happening, is a phenomenon that is taken so seriously it can even affect an entire country1. But what is luck really?

One view is that luck is a philosophy that dictates exactly what happens in our lives just as simply as a flip of a coin. Another way of looking at luck, though, is that it does not affect life situations at all; it is merely the grouping together of all the previous happy or sad occurrences in the life of any given person. 'Huh?' you may ask.

You are in Luck

Let us explain this further, then. Imagine that the 'luck' of a person can be determined by the desirability of any of their, or indeed other people's, life experiences. For example, if a person recently won the lottery2, or simply ate a rather tasty ice cream, they could be considered lucky. However, if said person had previously been badly hurt during a freak tropical tornado, they would be classed as unlucky.

But if the person is the subject of two separate incidents of 'luck', one event appears to offset the other, creating a kind of balance, or harmony, to life. For instance, the obvious bad luck associated with losing some money on the street is overshadowed by the extreme good luck of inheriting a fair sum from a long-lost relative. So the person who would otherwise be thought of as unlucky is now firmly considered lucky. And if someone is run over in the street by an ambulance, they may even feel they are in fact lucky, even though they are lying broken and bloody on the tarmac.

Get Lucky

Many feel that if they are not lucky they are considered a loser. After all, as Virgil put it, 'audentis fortuna iuvat' - or 'fortune favours the brave'. So those who are willing to try something out get lucky. But if we measure how 'lucky' a person is by categorising the things that have happened to them throughout their life, with particular emphasis on the most recent events, we can conclude that luck is made up of things that have already happened, and is not a result of doing certain things, and should not affect future events. There is an exception to this 'rule', though, in that people who believe they are affected by luck (particularly 'bad luck'), often find that, due to their beliefs, they act in a way that just invites bad luck to strike them down. And, funnily enough, so it does.

Feeling Lucky?

Coming out on top is all about timing. Luck is just social rhythm.
- a definition of luck, as overheard by an h2g2 Researcher on a visit to his local.

Regardless of what luck actually is, some of the more common meanings and definitions of the various types of luck available in the world are as follows:

  1. Good Luck - Luck resulting from or beginning with pleasant experiences. Over time, there have been attempts to bring good luck about, such as finding a four-leafed clover, putting a horseshoe over your door, or carrying a lucky rabbit's foot3. Doing something in a certain way is sometimes said to bring about good luck, too, like touching wood, crossing your fingers, performing weird and wonderful rituals4, or simply wishing on something like a religious token, a star or a manifestation of luck.

  2. Bad Luck - Luck resulting from or beginning with unpleasant experiences. Many superstitions are founded on instances of bad luck, such as walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, spilling salt, tripping over a black cat, and so on. People also often look to blame their misfortune on a certain thing: numbers, sightings of certain animals, or even a curse.

  3. No Luck - The absence of good luck. To have no luck is usually considered bad luck. To attempt to bring about luck, some people will lay faith in a personal item being lucky, most often underpants, socks or other items of clothing that they can wear on any occasion to rule out any danger of having no luck. This is usually more common in sporting circles.

  4. Luck nothing! - An expression often used by someone who is obviously lucky in the way they attain something (a win at cards, marrying a millionaire, and so on), and has been accused as such, but refuses to believe anything other than their own skill is at work.

Of course, luck can simply be what you make it. As golfer Arnold Palmer once quipped:

...the more I practise, the luckier I seem to get.
1Australia has been, somewhat ironically, referred to as the 'Lucky Country'.2The semi-rhyming term 'lucky-duck', or the coarser alternative, 'lucky-****er', is often muttered under the breath of family, friends, acquaintances and strangers to such a person.3Not so lucky for said rabbit, though, was it?4Like actors before performing the play Macbeth.

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