Why I Don’t Love Luck (And Why You Shouldn’t Too!)

People are irrational. They believe in luck.

One manifestation of this is the scramble to buy National Lottery tickets. As of last October last year you had around a one in 14 million chance of winning. This is when there were 49 balls, now that there are 59 balls you’ll now have a one in 45 million chance of winning. Its difficult to quantify these massive odds unless you put it into some sort of context:

“The change means you are more likely to date a supermodel, odds of 189,200 to one, or give birth to identical quadruplets, a 15 million to one chance, than win tonight’s jackpot,” he said.

Players are more likely to be hit by lightning, a 576,000 to one chance, attacked and killed by a shark (3.7 million to one) or dying from a bee sting (6.1 million to one) than finding themselves an overnight multi-millionaire.

By contrast, the odds against becoming a film star are a mere 1.5 million to one and dying in the bath are a fraction of the Lotto odds at 840,000 to one.

Luck is not fate

I’ve always thought that luck was different to the Stoic idea of Fate. Fate, according to the Stoics, is based on the universe being a material, reasoning substance, known as God or Nature, which they divided into two classes, the active and the passive. The passive substance is matter, which:

“… lies sluggish, a substance ready for any use, but sure to remain unemployed if no one sets it in motion – Seneca

The active substance, which can be called Fate, or Universal Reason (Logos), is an intelligent aether or primordial fire, which acts on the passive matter:

“The universe itself is god and the universal outpouring of its soul; it is this same world’s guiding principle, operating in mind and reason, together with the common nature of things and the totality that embraces all existence; then the foreordained might and necessity of the future; then fire and the principle of aether; then those elements whose natural state is one of flux and transition, such as water, earth, and air; then the sun, the moon, the stars; and the universal existence in which all things are contained – Chrysippus

Everything is subject to the laws of Fate, for the Universe acts according to its own nature, and the nature of the passive matter it governs. The souls of people and animals are emanations from this primordial fire, and are, likewise, subject to Fate:

“Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things that exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the structure of the web – Marcus Aurelius

Luck then is more about perception. An optimistic person would believe that they have good fortune because Fate has predetermined them to have this.

Luck can give or remove wealth, along with other similar things such as good health and success. But these things are not a prerequisite for a happy life.

How to be more lucky

Be Prepared

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity – Seneca


“The best wrestler,” he would say, “is not he who has learned thoroughly all the tricks and twists of the art, which are seldom met with in actual wrestling, but he who has well and carefully trained himself in one or two of them, and watches keenly for an opportunity of practising them.

Take action

Richard Wiseman’s ten-year study has shown:

“Lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

Change your thoughts

Stoicism requires that we change our thinking when it comes to luck. The idea of luck reminds us to be grateful about what you have. Marcus Aurelius suggested,

“Let not your mind run on what you lack as much as on what you have already.

An unfortunate event occurs, or we don’t achieve a goal, then we label this as bad luck. This negative judgement makes us unhappy. Adversity or bad luck can have a positive role: it can not only test our virtue but it can train it too.

How do you perceive luck? Please leave a comment below:

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