In his bestseller, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell informs us there is a magic birth year to become a software entrepreneur, or extremely wealthy, or possibly a star hockey player. This correlation of luck and material success is evident globally, culturally, and, of course, individually. Beyond the curiously good fortune of birth opportunities, recent scientific studies reveal that chance does play a large role in everyone’s future. Awareness of one’s luck is the greater challenge.
Would it surprise you to know that our ideas about luck and how it’s influenced our lives directly affects how we treat each other?
The emerging field of neuroeconomics measures how money impacts our thoughts, an interesting byproduct of success. Among several strange things money actually does to our brain, it removes empathy and makes us act more aggressively. It also creates a physical pain buffer. It causes us to make less ethical choices. And the more money we have, the more obsessed we are with it.
Despite the frequent add of luck to most success, those in higher income brackets are often more likely than others to say someone got rich because of hard work. Not to discredit that effort, but most were also in the right place at the right time. So where’s the disconnect? Arrogance? Egomania?
Psychologists call this “hindsight bias”. It seems when great success is achieved, the human tendency is to think it was predictable, that its cause is purely “hard work”. If we complete a lengthy bike ride, for instance, we’re naturally more likely to recall when we struggled with a headwind than the times we were able to coast.
Although seeing ourselves as “self-made” leads us to be less generous or public spirited,
the good news is that when we do credit luck’s influence on our gains, everyone wins. When we feel lucky, we feel grateful and we act with generosity. And when we are generous, we enjoy less stress, and lowered cardiovascular, depression, blood pressure and dementia risks. We’re measurably happier and healthier, both of which are priceless.