How luck happens Using the new science of luck to transform life, love, and work

Janice Kaplan

Book - 2018

"New York Times bestselling author Janice Kaplan examines the phenomenon of luck--and discovers the exciting ways you can boost your chances and set yourself up to get lucky in everyday life. After spending a year researching and experiencing gratitude for The Gratitude Diaries, Janice Kaplan is back to tackle another big, mysterious influence in all our lives: luck. And this time she's joined on her journey by coauthor Dr. Barnaby Marsh, a renowned academic who guides her exploration. Together they look at the factors that led a young struggling Harrison Ford to a chance encounter with fledgling director George Lucas, and they find out what distinguishes luck from pure randomness. They discover that much of what we call luck is r...eally under our control, and they reveal the simple techniques to create luck in love and marriage, business and career, health, happiness, and family relationships. Using original research and fascinating studies, they offer breakthrough insights on how all of us--from CEOs to stay-at-home moms--can tip the scales of fortune in our favor. Through a mix of scientific research, interviews with famous and successful people, and powerful narrative, How Luck Happens uncovers a fascinating subject in accessible and entertaining style"--

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New York : Dutton [2018]
Main Author
Janice Kaplan (author)
Other Authors
Barnaby Marsh (author)
Physical Description
viii, 341 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references.
  • Preface
  • Part 1. Understanding Luck
  • Chapter 1. Prepare to Be Lucky
  • Chapter 2. Some People Have All the Luck-And You Can Be One of Them
  • Chapter 3. Pick the Statistic You Want to Be
  • Part 2. How to Get Lucky
  • Chapter 4. Skate to Where the Puck Will Be
  • Chapter 5. Connect to the Power of Other People
  • Chapter 6. Zig When Others Zag
  • Chapter 7. The Power of Persistence and Passion
  • Chapter 8. How Many Eggs in Your Basket? (And How Many Baskets?)
  • Chapter 9. The Lucky Break That Really Counts
  • Part 3. Targeted Luck
  • Chapter 10. How to Get a Job at Goldman Sachs (Or Anywhere You Want)
  • Chapter 11. Get Lucky in Love
  • Chapter 12. Make Lucky Kids
  • Part 4. The Other Side of Luck
  • Chapter 13. Bad Luck: Why Your Worst Moment Can Be Your Luckiest
  • Chapter 14. The Ambulance in Your Backyard
  • Chapter 15. How to Get Lucky in a Disaster (Natural or Otherwise)
  • Part 5. The Big Picture
  • Chapter 16. The Lucky Path: Find Your Compass
  • Chapter 17. The Lucky Attitude: Believe That You Can Make Luck
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
Review by Library Journal Review

Luck often plays a role in our lives, which raises the question: Are there ways to improve one's chances? This book by best-selling author Kaplan (The Gratitude Diaries) and scholar Marsh examines the ways one can advance the opportunities for being lucky in career, love, health, and more. Most of the advice is common sense: be willing to relocate, keep your eye out for chance, take risks but have a backup plan, and reach out to others and develop contacts since you never know who will turn out to be the link you need. Above all, have a positive attitude. The authors illustrate their advice with anecdotal evidence about real people; both the rich and famous and others not so well known but successful in their own way. All in all, despite the subtitle reference to the "science of luck" and although some mathematical theory is alluded to, it is hardly scientific. Verdict A well-written, easy-to-read book that many will find enjoyable.-Harold D. Shane, Mathematics Emeritus, Baruch Coll. Lib., CUNY © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

How to make yourself lucky.Seneca said it best: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." In this genial, upbeat overview, former Parade editor-in-chief Kaplan (The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life, 2015, etc.) and risk-taking expert Marsh offer stories of those lucky moments in the lives of countless people. "To get lucky, you have to be in a place where opportunities are going to be around you," said Marsh in one of the authors' regular weekly conversations, which drive the narrative. Kaplan, a veteran journalist, is often out conducting interviews with famous and successful (and lucky) people, and she compares notes with Marsh, who provides insights from his own risk-related work (as a visiting researcher at Princeton and Harvard), as well as other findings in psychology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience. Time and again, their stories find luck occurring at the intersection of "chance, talent, and hard work," whether in the case of the young carpenter Harrison Ford, installing cabinets for movie director George Lucas and winding up in the movie American Graffiti; or of aspiring actress Charlize Theron, discovered by an agent during a screaming fit in a Los Angeles bank. "You make luck through other people"witness Mother Teresa, who found that flying first class put her next to wealthy donors. Not to mention social media maven Sree Sreenivasan, the former chief digital officer at the Met Museum, who, when he lost that job, got word out to his followers and soon landed a better-paying position. In a long succession of feel-good stories, not always about the famous but often sofrom Thomas Edison to Lee Child and Deepak Choprathe authors illustrate how individuals managed successfully to place the constellations of good fortune in alignment. They are quick to note that you won't get lucky sitting home watching TV.A brightly crafted, overlong diversion. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Chapter One Prepare to Be Lucky Be open to opportunity. . . . Get the information you need. . . . See what you're not seeing. . . . Drive to the intersection of chance, talent, and hard work. Barnaby's Luck Lab at the Institute for Advanced Study was tucked away amid the beautiful wooded fields of Princeton, New Jersey-a perfect place for thinking big thoughts about the science of making luck. As we took a walk together through the peaceful grounds one morning, Barnaby told me that Albert Einstein wandered these same tree-lined paths while mulling over his famous theories. Our new ideas might not disrupt the theory of relativity, but we hoped they would change the way people thought about luck-and the possibilities for their own futures. It had rained hard the previous night, and the sun hadn't yet dried out the wet ground. Scooting around a puddle, I told Barnaby that writing my previous book The Gratitude Diaries had taught me that we have more control over our own happiness than we sometimes realize. I was delighted that the book had inspired so many people to lead happier lives, and I had a feeling that understanding how to make yourself lucky-under any circumstances-could have a similar effect. Barnaby nodded. "If you're driven to make your life a little better and wonder why things don't always go your way, our new approach will let you claim the luck that should be yours." We both agreed that luck isn't the same as random chance. If you flip a coin ten times to determine your future, you are relying on chance-and most people would agree that's pretty silly. If you talk to people, prepare yourself, look for opportunity, and then jump on the unexpected events that might (randomly) appear, you are making luck. And that's what we all need to do. "Luck isn't a zero-sum game. There's plenty of luck for everyone if you know where and how to look for it," Barnaby said. Barnaby thought the evidence was pretty clear that luck is not passive-it requires action, and many events that may seem like random chance are not so random after all. He was convinced that by understanding the underlying dynamics of luck, you can gain control over aspects of your life that once seemed to depend on chance, fate, or the phases of the moon. We would work together using insights and recent discoveries in psychology, behavioral economics, mathematics, and neuroscience to develop a new way of understanding luck. "We're at the starting point of a brand-new field, and instead of finding the research, we're going to have to create it," he said. The Luck Lab was the right place to do this, since the Institute for Advanced Study, where Barnaby has an academic appointment, is famous as a font for big ideas. Over the years, it has attracted geniuses from around the world-and it's fun to drive around local streets named after many of them.Along with Einstein, the great mathematician and philosopher Kurt Gsdel was a professor there, and so was the early computer scientist and game theory pioneer John von Neumann. Renowned theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, also known for his work building the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos National Laboratory, was a longtime director. And Barnaby and I felt we were the right team to tackle the project. We had very different backgrounds and life experiences. I've had a successful career as a journalist, magazine editor, and TV producer in the New York City area and raised two terrific sons with my handsome doctor-husband. Barnaby grew up in Alaska and was homeschooled until he started college-at which point he launched into academic and career experiences that took him around the globe. He became a top executive at a major foundation that gives away $100 million a year. A quirky and original thinker, he knows more people than anybody I've ever met. He recently settled in New York City with his wife, Michelle, and their two very young and adorable daughters-though "settled" is never the right word for him. We hoped our research in luck would be powerful and game-changing and give people a new view of their own lives and experiences. Barnaby had already been coming up with strategies about opportunity and risk and effort and how these affect your ability to transform your future. It was all very erudite and heady, and my job would be to bring it down to earth and see how the theories worked in everyday life. As a practical schedule, Barnaby would escape to this ivoriest of towers every Monday and Tuesday to make conceptual models and try to develop theories of luck that worked across all contexts-whether you were trying to get a job, find a mate, or survive as a species in the evolutionary sweepstakes. On Wednesdays we would meet and talk them through. Along the way, I would find the academics, entrepreneurs, and celebrities who could illustrate the points and help us both see how people could wittingly or not make luck happen for themselves. By the end of the year, we would know exactly what it takes to make yourself lucky. This new science of luck would have straightforward principles that would work to make things go better in all aspects of your life. ÒBeyond the theoretical work, itÕs important to understand the right actions to take so you can put yourself on the luck-making path and create the destiny you want for yourself,Ó Barnaby said. We were so engrossed in conversation that we hardly noticed how muddy we were getting as we slipped and slid along the (actual) path where we were walking. By the end, my canvas shoes were thoroughly soaked and caked with dirt. "Luck may be like gratitude in that a lot depends on your perspective," I told Barnaby as we emerged from the woods. "I consider this a very lucky walk in that we have exciting ideas and a good plan. But someone else might see it as unlucky that I have to throw away my shoes." He smiled. "Sacrifices are always made in the name of science." I looked down at my muddy feet. Part of luck was about finding new opportunities. Compared to that, finding new shoes shouldn't be very hard. A couple of days after we got back from Princeton, Barnaby suggested I take a first shot at seeing how our basic theory worked in practice. If we were right that you make your own luck, could I try to get lucky on one particular day? For this experiment I didn't need a blackboard full of equations. I would simply try to create my own luck. My day didn't look to be very exciting. I planned to do a few errands in the morning, then go to Penn Station and catch a train to visit my wonderful mother-in-law. "Does any part of that sound lucky to you?" I asked Barnaby. It also happened to be Friday, May 13th-not the obvious day to have beautiful opportunities fall from the sky. But Barnaby asked me to set out on my day with a slightly different perspective than usual. He gave me some basic guidelines for luck: I should stay attentive to opportunities, be prepared for anything, and try the unexpected. "And luck will just rain down on me?" I asked dubiously. Since it was already storming outside, it would have been better for some sunshine to appear. But a challenge is a challenge, and I was intrigued. My day started unremarkably with visits to the post office and drugstore, and then I headed to Penn Station. I had left plenty of time and arrived early (way too early) for my 10:15 a.m. train. Penn Station is grim and dreary, and hanging out there didn't feel very lucky at all. But with the advice to be prepared, I had studied the train schedule and knew there was an earlier train at 9:46. I didn't think there was time to make it-but why not try? When I ran to the gate, the escalator was (mysteriously) going up from the track, not down to it. I dashed over to a security guard hanging out nearby and asked what to do. "You have to go all the way around to the other side and take the staircase," he said. I felt momentarily defeated-the train was leaving in about one minute, and the corridor to the other side looked long. But I thought of a high school coach who used to cheer, "Go for it! Take a chance!" So I ran around the station to the staircase, galumphed down the steps, and got onto the train a moment before the doors closed. What luck! I felt a surge of triumph. It was a small victory, but I had made it happen. Wait a minute. Was that the secret? I could control more than I realized? A week earlier, I had been in almost the identical situation and hadn't hustled quite as much. The train door literally slammed in my face. That felt like an unlucky day, while this one suddenly felt much more positive. With the train success in my mind, I felt a surge of confidence. I arrived at the other end earlier than planned, so I took a pleasant walk to my mother-in-law's apartment (the rain had even stopped) rather than taking a cab. We went out for lunch and chatted cheerfully with the waitress at the diner. I thanked her for making me a salad that wasn't on the menu and confided that I was trying to make lucky things happen all day. At dessert, the waitress brought over a chocolate cupcake with a candle in it. "This one's on us. A lucky day is worth celebrating," the waitress said. Catching an earlier train and getting a free chocolate cupcake weren't exactly earth-shattering events. But on a Friday the thirteenth, they definitely counted on the good side of luck. When I reported this story to Barnaby the next day, I was somewhere between amazed and baffled. I was starting to agree that luck isn't a magical and mystical force that falls from the sky-it's something that we can (at least partly) create for ourselves. That's fairly stunning to realize, since most of us sit back and hope for good luck when we really should be taking the right steps to make it happen. The sharp-tongued Australian novelist Christina Stead noted in 1938 that "a self-made man is one who believes in luck and sends his children to Oxford." In other words, chance plays a role in life, but it's not everything. The foundations for luck are set by our own actions-what we try, whom we talk to, how fast we decide to run for the train. If luck is all around us, waiting to be found, then we had to stop walking right by it or whizzing past in our SUVs. Lucky occurrences usually aren't as haphazard as they may first appear. It's true that fortune is not fairly distributed and some options are beyond your control. I had been born in the United States to middle-class parents who wanted me to advance, and in the history of the world, that counted as an enormous, unbelievable privilege. But no matter how you start out or where you hope to land, knowing the dynamics of chance changes . . . well, your chances. "You can uncover the luck, grab it for yourself, and share it with friends!" Barnaby told me now. To make good luck, you need the right information so you can prepare for the right actions. Knowing the possible steps keeps you from being buffeted by forces you can't control and gives you power over more aspects of your life. We often have greater control over our future than we realize. It was exciting to think that I didn't have to wait for lucky days-I could make them. Barnaby and I decided to launch our project with a national survey on luck-and we put it together carefully to make sure it would be wide-ranging and statistically significant. When the results started coming in, we were surprised-and also delighted. Fully 82 percent of people believed that they had some or great influence over the luck in their lives. Only 5 percent thought that no matter what they did, they couldnÕt change their luck. So our belief that you could make luck happen fit in with an overall American attitude that random events may occur, but that doesnÕt mean life is out of your control. You just have to learn the right approaches. Finding those right approaches was our big challenge-because luck is in the details. The great scientist Louis Pasteur once pointed out that "Luck favors the prepared mind." A wise thought-but he never said what the preparation looks like. So we would try to fill in the blanks and uncover the step-by-step process for preparing to be lucky. When I mentioned to my friend Liz that I was learning how to create luck for myself, she immediately asked if I was buying a lottery ticket. But a lottery is not a good model for luck in the rest of life. Even though it's been around since the days of the Roman empire and ropes in millions of buyers (and dreamers), a lottery is just a game that raises money and hopes. You buy a ticket, and then everything else is left to chance. There are crazy odds against you and nothing you can do about them. (Some Australians found one thing they could do to win. But we'll get to that later.) In the big matters that make us seem truly fortunate in life-a good job, a happy family, and a feeling of success-life isn't a lottery at all. Random chance does play a part in our lives and serendipitous events occur that you can't easily explain, but chance is just one element of the luck picture. If you think about luck as strictly random events, you're missing the bigger point. To get lucky, you need to put aside what you can't control and focus on the other elements that are completely under your control. When I visited Barnaby at the Luck Lab the next time, he took me over to the math library, where he liked to work. Library stacks are often dark, but he had a favorite table by a bay window where light poured in-and the office where Albert Einstein had worked was just below us. "We probably have a better view than he did," Barnaby said cheerfully. Inspired by the ghost of genius past, we talked about successful people we knew and tried to tease out the elements that made them lucky. Certain traits-like smarts, determination, energy, and original thinking-got repeated over and over. Chance sometimes played a role-good timing and all that-but it never stood alone. Excerpted from How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love, and Life by Janice Kaplan, Barnaby Marsh All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.