Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Luck be a lady tonight

I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and I bloomin’ loved it.

I have just returned from a weekend in a luxury Highlands lodge, complete with a footstool the size of my lounge, a stag mounted above a roaring fire and not an item of IKEA furniture in sight.  For the first hour or two I felt like an imposter who might be asked to leave at any moment. But I was there and saw it for myself - how the other half live.

It was the height of luxury. Built dramatically overlooking its own loch (or, strictly, a fully public loch), the lodge boasted six large en suite bedrooms (each with very high thread count White Company linen) and - to the delight of us all - an outdoor hot-tub the size of a small car. (I couldn't help thinking of the poor architect who had conceived this fabulously romantic set-up as we necked Tesco’s finest beers by the gallon from within it.)  

Frankly the only thing that was missing was our very own butler. Now I am not wildly experienced in the management of man-servants, but I am certainly a fast learner. Within a short time I am quite sure that I could have been casually asking him to unpack the suitcases and ensure that the Merlot was decanted for supper.

The shocking thing is how quickly you can get used to a preposterous level of luxury - and just how enjoyable it is. Money can't make you happy, they say, but lounging with a Shiraz (the butler said the 98 Merlot was piss – a bad year apparently) on a giant plush footstool, watching the roaring fire, overlooking snow capped mountains, before heading to my luxurious 6ft bath and White Company sheets, you do have to wonder.

But this was a fleeting foray into the life of those who own tweed non-ironically, despise fashion-wellies and deny watching reality TV.

Readers do not despair; I have not lost leave of my senses, thrown caution to the wind and maxed out the credit card with this luxurious escape. I did not pay for this trip. No, even more shocking than all of that, I won it.

Yes, I am now ‘one of those people’ that nobody believes exists. One of those lucky ones. A surprising number of people have responded to this prize-news in utter dismay. ‘They would never even bother entering,’ they tell me, so impossible would a win be. They just aren’t that lucky. Personally I think it would take some serious levels of luck to win a competition that you hadn't even entered, but that's just me.

This all got me thinking about the science of luck.

Are you lucky or unlucky? Why do some people always seem to be in the right place at the right time, whilst others attract only bad fortune? Why are my friends so convinced that I am ‘lucky’ just because my name came out of hat?

For this, I turn to my friend (well a researcher whom I admire) named Professor Wiseman. (No pun intended.) Richard Wiseman has spent 10 years researching the lives of the lucky and the unlucky and notes that ‘the lives of the lucky and unlucky are as consistent as they are remarkable. Lucky people always seem to be in the right place at the right time, fall on their feet, and appear to have an uncanny ability to live a charmed life. Unlucky people are the exact opposite.’

He designed a series of studies to investigate if good and bad fortune really was predetermined, or if psychology could account for these dramatically different lives. In one memorable study, he gave the volunteers a newspaper and asked them to look inside it and tell him how many photographs were printed within the pages. What he didn’t mention was that halfway through the paper was an unexpected opportunity. This ‘opportunity’ took up half a page and announced in huge type, ‘Win £100 by telling the experimenter you have seen this.’

People who had previously described themselves as ‘unlucky’ tended to be so focused on the task at hand, the counting of the photographs, that they failed to notice the ad. In contrast, the lucky people were more relaxed, saw the bigger picture, and so spotted a chance to win £100. In this simple experiment Wiseman demonstrated how lucky people can create their good fortune by being more able to make the most of an unexpected opportunity.

Would you spot the ad? Enter the competition? See the opportunity?

Be optimistic, energetic and open to new experiences. You never know, your name might just come out the hat.

Of course I should add that I’m not that lucky. My lottery numbers haven’t come off quite yet, but there’s still time for me and my own lodge. For now I’ll just head back down to steerage and will have to accept that the problem with luckily winning luxurious breaks – is that it makes real life that bit bloomin’ harder.

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