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Do the happy-go-lucky?  Do Optimists Believe in Luck?

"While we find that the general belief in luck appears to be associated with low levels of optimism and happiness, if one additionally believes that they are personally lucky then this belief is associated with even higher levels of optimism and happiness than one who doesn’t believe at all."

by Victor Perton

Three researchers, The University of Bath's Edmund R Thompson, Hong Kong Baptist University's Gerard P. Prendergast and Oxford Brookes University's Gerard H. Dericks set out to study the association between belief in luck, happiness and optimism.

As the researchers say, "that luck beliefs and happiness may be associated is suggested by more than just the familiar aphorism ‘happy-go-lucky’. Across diverse and unrelated languages, dictionaries of both etymology and idioms support a possible association between luck beliefs and happiness."

The participants in the study comprised 844 volunteer under- and post-graduate full-time students at an English-language university in Hong Kong. Some 59% were aged 20–24, 10% 18–19, 10% 25–29, 20% >30. All were ethnically Chinese but fluent English speakers, enabling all the measures used to be administered in their original English versions.

    I asked Gerard Dericks about the study and the findings regarding optimism.

    VP: What makes you optimistic?

    Gerard Dericks:  "Our research suggests that while overall it is good for your level of optimism not to believe in the existence of luck, what is even better is to simultaneously both believe in luck and to believe that you are a lucky person. Intuitively this makes sense. If you believe in luck but don’t believe you are personally lucky the world may seem capricious and uncertain. Whereas if you believe you are personally lucky then you may perceive life’s uncertainties as more like an opportunity than a threat.

    "Interestingly, we also find that optimism appears to be determined to a greater extent by one’s luck beliefs than their intrinsic personality, suggesting that one’s level of optimism is ultimately a choice."

    VP: What does the report say about the relationship between optimism, happiness and luck?

    Gerard Dericks:  

    "Prior research has found that degrees of luck belief comprise two separate dimensions: both a general belief in the existence of luck as a deterministic force (as opposed to pure random chance), and if so, a specific belief in whether oneself is personally lucky or not. While we find that the general belief in luck appears to be associated with low levels of optimism and happiness, if one additionally believes that they are personally lucky then this belief is associated with even higher levels of optimism and happiness than one who doesn’t believe in luck at all."

    The Researchers' Conclusion

    "Our findings make novel contributions to the understanding of how luck beliefs relate to, respectively and in combination, happiness and the five-factor personality model. We find broadly that Belief in Luck is negatively associated with happiness, and that this relationship appears mediated by the Neuroticism component of the five-factor personality model. We thus find no evidence that the ‘happy’ in fact ‘go lucky’ in the sense of believing in luck. To the contrary, a belief in luck would seem to be a trait manifesting itself as an element of Neuroticism and its suite of negative and maladaptive psychology traits that are linked to unhappiness. By contrast, we find that Belief in Personal Luckiness is positively associated with measures of happiness, and that this association is not substantially confounded by the five-factor personality model. Belief in Personal Luckiness would seem perhaps, therefore, to represent a unique facet of happiness. Taken together, these findings could lend support to a more accurate, if less elegant, aphorism that, broadly: though luck believers aren’t happy, those who believe themselves lucky are."


    Read the Researchers's Report "Do the happy-go-lucky?"

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