How to look after numero uno? Share good luck when it comes your way.

Why are some people so much luckier than others? It's the way they play the game.

Barnaby Marsh: One big pitfall that I see is that it’s problematic if you’re not positioned to take advantage of luck when a lucky event comes your way. So people who are lucky position themselves so that when something happens that they can take advantage of, they can grasp that opportunity and make the most of it.

This comes back to this idea of lucky events being different from lucky outcomes. Lucky events can happen to a lot of people, but only some people in that population might be in a position to actually capitalize on those lucky events and create a lucky outcome for themselves.

For instance, imagine the example of a lottery winner. The focus is on having the winning lottery ticket, but what really matters, and what people talk about, is the ability to spend that ticket. So if the person has the winning ticket but loses it, they don’t consider themselves very lucky usually. But the person who gains the winnings from the lottery ticket and who uses them in productive ways is seen as lucky.

There’s an old Chinese poem about lucky or not-lucky, and it illustrates how different outcomes in our lives can have consequences that affect us detrimentally or positively.

So many areas of life where we think we might be lucky might lead to consequences that aren’t lucky. And sometimes things that happen to us where we think we’re not lucky actually leads to an abundance of luck. You take the example of a lottery winner, for instance. You look at lottery winners and sometimes a lottery winning actually destroys their life. And so the question is: Was winning the lottery a lucky event or not? Well, it depends on the outcome. It depends on how well luck is used to create other luck going forward.

One of the most interesting things I found, when we were looking at from a scientific point of view, has to do with how a very small advantage can grow over time when it is shared. So if you share a lucky event or the outcome of a lucky event with others who are likely to have future contact with you, that luck is likely to grow and come back to you. The most selfish thing a lucky person can do is to share their luck with other people.

And when you’re astute to many, many opportunities, by definition you can’t pursue and you can’t take all of them. But what do you do with them? The best thing to do is to share those opportunities with other people that you know who could use those opportunities. And as you share them you’re creating a bond and the preconditions for prosocial activity to happen in the future. Lucky people almost always share their luck with other people, and it comes back to benefit them in great ways.

And there’s a saying we have, that, “You don’t get lucky by sitting home watching TV." You get lucky by being out there, by talking with people, by interacting with them and engaging with them, letting them know what excites you and letting them know how your talents might be able to help them.

There are a lot of social butterflies out there and they might be working really hard behind the scenes to make more luck. And when the luck happens to them they say, “Well, I was just lucky. I was a lucky person, and it happened to me.”

But, of course, when you look more closely, many of the times they’re just prepared in a much better way. They’re positioning themselves well. And they’re able to avail themselves to more possibility than others who are not quite as engaged.

Sharing your good luck isn't selfless, it's actually the most selfish thing you can do, says author and risk expert Barnaby Marsh. Why? Because it's highly likely that an opportunity you pass on to someone else will come back to benefit you down the track. Luck really is a social force. "There’s a saying we have, that, 'You don’t get lucky by sitting home watching TV.' You get lucky by being out there, by talking with people, by interacting with them and engaging with them, letting them know what excites you and letting them know how your talents might be able to help them," says Marsh. Some social butterflies will pass off their good fortune as being in the right place at the right time, but Marsh explains that it's a case of purposeful positioning and there is often much more preparation behind the scenes than you'd think. Marsh also explains that there are two parts to luck: the event and the outcome—and poor management of the former is where luck turns sour. So why are some people so much luckier than others? It's not that fortune favors them, it's the way they position themselves to play the game. Barnaby Marsh is the author of How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love, and Life.

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10 excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' to unlock your inner Stoic

Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.

(Getty Images)
Personal Growth
  • Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  • Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
  • The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.