A Brief History of Luck

According to Wikipedia, the word "luck" first appeared in English during the 1480s. It came from the German or Dutch "luk," which was a shortened form of "gelucke." It is speculated that it entered the language as a gambling term, as a way to describe an event that is improbable, whether good or bad.

Although in general luck, whether bad or good, describes things that are beyond one's direct control or intention, there are really two ways that the concept has been understood. The first is as a deterministic and even supernatural force. This understanding is what people are typically referring to when they say that they either believe or do not believe in luck. This is the prescriptive sense of the word.

In the descriptive sense, people simply use the concept to describe improbable events after the fact. In other words, when something happens that seems unlikely we call the occurrence lucky or unlucky. This use of the word is really no different than saying something is fortunate or unfortunate, at least at this time (in old English "good fortune" had implications of divine blessing and prosperity, rather than the more general sense of any beneficial effect without attribution to a causal factor).

That's a short explanation of the historical development of the concept. For the purposes of this website and my book, I define luck only in the descriptive sense. In other words, there are occurrences that we did not expect that are bad for us, and we call these "bad luck," while those that benefit us we call "good luck." I do not believe in the prescriptive sense of it being a supernatural force.

Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism, told his followers to disregard the idea of luck as a prescriptive matter. He said all things which happen must have a cause (and this was taken to mean either material or spiritual cause). Despite this, today in many predominantly Buddhist countries there is a strong belief in luck as a force of some sort. For example, in Thailand many Buddhists may wear lucky amulets (usually blessed by monks), which are meant to either bring good luck or prevent bad things from happening.

But if we stick to the descriptive sense, if we simply take good luck to mean good things that happen, we can begin to look at causes and contributing factors. Lucky amulets are almost certainly not a cause. This is where we leave behind the history and begin to explore the "science" of luck. What causes some people to have more fortunate events affecting their lives, and what causes the opposite?

That's what "Secrets of Lucky People" looks at in detail. It includes research that has been done in many places. When servers smile customers tip more, for example, a simple example of usable information that can cause one to be the luckiest waiter in the restaurant. People find new and interesting jobs more through acquaintances than friends according to the research, suggesting that your next lucky break is more likely to come sooner if you have a wide variety of acquaintances.

Those are but a couple examples of information you can use to start your own history of a luckier life. If you arrange your circumstances, time and finances in certain ways we can predict that you'll have more unpredictable good things happen. That may sound contradictory, but it isn't. In a casino no one can predict with certainty who will win which hand of poker or spin of the roulette wheel, yet we can predict that the casino will win in the long run, because the odds are in their favor. You can arrange things so they are in your favor as well.

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