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Encyclopedia > Bad luck

This article is about good and bad fortune. There is also: Luck, Volhynia, a town in Ukraine, and USA.

Luck may be analysed from three viewpoints - rational, social, and spiritual.


Rational viewpoint

As related to the occurrences of actual events considered to be of low probability in a mathematical or statistical sense. A rationalist approach would lead to the conclusion that such matters as whether or not someone bore a victim ill will would have no bearing upon (for example) that person being hit by a loose brick falling from a decrepit building. It was only due to a remote statistical probability that the brick's four dimensional space_time path intercepted the 4D path of the victim's head (this was an actual occurrence in San Francisco). In a case like this both rationalists and spiritualists would likely say that the victim was unlucky. In an example of good luck, a person winning a lottery would generally be considered lucky, although a rationalist might point out that there was bound to be a winner sooner or later, and there was actually nothing lucky about someone winning _ it was merely a probabilistic event. It is doubful that the winner would agree with that analysis, however.

Social viewpoint

As a social phenomenon, there is much truth in the saying "what goes around, comes around". On the one hand, those who are kind and generous to others are usually perceived as open and accepting and so more likely to be freely offered assistance from others. They are also more likely to also be able to ask for and receive help from others in time of need. On the other hand, those who are asocial or anti-social are less likely ask for assistance or to be offered assistance by others. The open, generous and cheerful person is more likely to be classified by others as lucky, while the curmudgeon is more likely to be considered by others or to consider him/her self unlucky.

Supernatural viewpoint

There is also sometimes considered to be a supernatural bias towards experiencing events of good or ill fortune. In this sense some belief that one's own or another's good or bad luck can be influenced through spiritual means or by performing certain rituals or by avoiding certain (from a rational viewpoint non-relevant) situations. Voodoo is a religious practice in which this belief is particularly strong, although many cultures worldwide place a strong emphasis on a person's ability to influence their luckyness by ritualistic means. This often involves proper respect for spirits, believed to inhabit a location prior to human occupation. In some cultures, if one builds a house on a property it is respectful to provide a small spirit house for their habitation. In other cultures, a building may be interrupted by a passageway to allow the flow of spiritual energy - the location being determined by an expert in such matters. In such cultures, ignoring such matters is believed to lead to misfortune - bad luck. In this context there is also the concept of "purpose" to events ascribed to luck, good or bad.

Effects of viewpoint and beliefs

The belief in luck as a supernatural phenomenon is generally regarded by rationalists as a form of magical thinking. However, there is evidence that people who believe themselves to have good luck are more able to take advantage of fortunate chance events in their lives, and to compensate for unfortunate chance events in their lives, than people who believe that they have bad luck. This appears to be the result of positive thinking altering their responses to these events. A belief in luck can also indicate a belief in an external locus of control for events in their life and so escape from personal responsibility.

Risky lifestyles

Often those who ascribe their travails to "bad luck" will be found upon close examination to be living risky lifestyles. For example: a drunk driver may ascribe their arrest to the bad luck of being observed by a patrolman, or the bad luck of being involved in a traffic accident (perhaps not even the victim's fault), as a way of avoiding personal responsibility for his/her actions.

Positive outlook

On the other hand, people who consider themselves "lucky" in having good health may be actually reaping the benefits of a cheerful outlook and satisfying social relationships, both of which are well known statistically to be protective against many stress_related diseases.


If "good" and "bad" events occur at random to everyone, believers in good luck will experience a net gain in their fortunes, and vice versa for believers in bad luck. This is clearly likely to be self_reinforcing. Thus, although untrue, a belief in good luck may actually be an adaptive meme.

The gambler's fallacy and inverse gambler's fallacy are both related to belief in luck.


Most cultures consider some numbers to be lucky or unlucky. This is found to be particularly strong in Asian cultures, where the obtaining of "lucky" telephone numbers, automobile license plate numbers, and household addresses are actively sought, sometimes at great monetary expense.


Popular sayings and quotations related to luck:

  • "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" -
  • "You make your own luck" -
  • "It doesn't rain but what it pours" - this is an expression of the mathematical property of statistically independent events to bunch together.
  • "Bad things happen in threes" - see above
  • "Luck is the residue of design" - Branch Rickey
  • When something happens by "sheer dumb luck", it is considered to have happened unintentionally and without planning.
  • "Luck doesn't exist." There are more variations on this phrase than can be listed here (well they can, but no one cares), but not enough to make believers care.

Luck in fiction

See also:

  Results from FactBites:
Do Black Cats Cause Bad Luck (1715 words)
Luck for White Cat is a chart of when the subject's path was crossed by a white cat.
Luck for Black Cat is a graph of the subject's luck when his path was crossed by a fl cat.
The subject's luck was decreased according to a random factor, not according to the cat's path-crossing.
OldSuperstitions.com - Superstitions Database (984 words)
Bad Luck: Friday the Thirteenth - The Scandinavian's believed that the number 13 was unlucky due to the mythological 12 demigods being joined by a 13th, an evil one, who brought misfortune upon humans.
Bad Luck: To spill ink threatens worry, annoyance, and the failure of a project that is on foot.
Bad Luck: If a person stumbles when leaving his house at the beginning of a journey, or trips or stumbles more than once during the course of the journey, it is advisable to postpone it.
  More results at FactBites »



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