It plays such a huge part in our lives, but what exactly is luck and what impact can it have on the individuals and the world around us?
Fortune favours the brave. Luck has got nothing to do with it. He who dares, wins, Rodders.
We use these mantras all the time in our daily lives and some of us even follow them, but just how big a role does luck play in what we do?
According to Ed Smith, author of Luck: What It Means And Why It Matters, published last month, good and bad luck have a huge effect on our careers and our personal lives.
He should know. Mr Smith is a former cricketer who tasted success and disappointment through the game.
In a brief Test career with England, he fell foul to a bad LBW call from an umpire and never represented his country again.
He doesn’t blame the umpire, but his own poor form the following season, for not being selected.
It was another incident, however, that made luck the subject of his latest book.
‘The prompt if you like was when I was captaining Middlesex in 2008 at Lord’s,’ said the 34-year-old, from Kent.
‘I was doing the most innocuous thing you can do on a cricket field which requires almost no athletic ability, which is running a two. The ball went to the outfield, it was an easy two and I ran it at 80 per cent and I just turned, touched my bat in and collapsed in a heap.’
Mr Smith broke his ankle and his cricket career was over.
‘When I was sitting there with my ankle in a cast it led me to think about the role that luck had played in my career and also my life in a much broader sense,’ he said.
‘I realised that far from being a hard luck story I had actually benefited from a huge amount of good luck, both random luck of circumstances, who I’d met and where I’d been at what time but also the non-random luck of going to a cricketing school where I’d been coached very well and had access to very good facilities.
‘I had benefited from a huge amount of luck even though I was kind of obviously cursing my luck in the short term.’
In the book, Mr Smith recounts how luck also played a part away from the crease – he and his wife met on a train neither had initially intended on taking.
‘Some people call that fate. I don’t think I would call that fate at all. I think of it as a good example of just pure luck,’ he said.
‘It’s all these tiny links in the chain that lead to things that ultimately change our lives.’
Mr Smith says luck is something we have no control over.
‘A lot of people argue about the meaning of luck. For example, if I have an operation and the surgeon makes a mistake and it’s a disaster, that’s not a matter of luck if he’s a bad surgeon – it may be a question of inability.
‘But to me, as the recipient of that bad operation it’s a matter of pure luck. Bad luck. To be the recipient of the thing which you can’t control is a matter of luck. That’s why I use the phrase “non-random luck” when talking about education. The facts that go into forming where you grow up and all those sort of things are not random necessarily, but to you as the kid it is a matter of pure luck. You’ve no control over that even if some other people do.’
Mr Smith claims moments of luck can dramatically change the course of history, pointing out that Winston Churchill had a narrow escape when struck by a car in New York in 1931 and that the financial meltdown of 2008 helped Barack Obama in his campaign to win the US presidential election.
And what of successful sports stars, how much does luck help them collect their titles? Could it be something they are born with?
‘It isn’t luck, as in lucky net cords or lucky line calls, that makes Roger Federer win 16 Grand Slams,’ said Mr Smith.
‘But in a big picture, talent is a matter of luck. Genetic talent. Innate talent. You don’t get to determine whether you have the potential to be a great athlete.
‘There is a matter of luck in winning the genetic lottery and having that predisposition to be a great athlete.’
But for the rest of us mere mortals, there could be ways of using luck to our advantage.
Mr Smith said: ‘What you can do is put yourself in the way of as much opportunity as possible.
‘There are two things in life. There is the hand you get dealt and then there’s the way you play it. The hand you get dealt is a matter of luck, the way you play it is a matter of skill and resilience.’
Prof Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, has carried out studies on luck and its effect on people. He believes lucky people follow their instincts.
‘It is very easy to take an unscientific approach to luck and simply speculate about what does and doesn’t make people lucky,’ he said.
‘The best work into the topic has involved scientific research and discovered that luck is indeed all in the mind, and that people can change their luck by thinking and behaving like a lucky person.’