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Talking to Strangers (and Other Things That Bring Luck)

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People may be born into lucky situations, but they aren't born lucky. Turns out the old aphorism is true: Research shows that people make their own luck. And they do it in a specific way: by adhering to four specific principles. Many lucky people act on these principles without realizing it, but research shows that people can increase their luck by consciously practicing being lucky.
In the next several postings I'm going to explain how lucky people get that way, and how you can teach your kids the skills they need to live lucky lives. (If you question whether that is something they really need in life, read this post). All of this is based on the research and writing of Dr. Richard Wiseman; I recommend his book The Luck Factor.

Teach Kids to Increase Their Odds

Research shows that one of the factors that sets lucky people apart from the unlucky is how they "create, notice, and act upon the chance opportunities in their lives," writes Wiseman. There are three key ways we can increase our odds that something lucky will happen to us, and we can teach them all to our kids.

1. Teach Kids to Make New Friends and Keep the Old.

For starters, lucky people have and maintain a lot of social connections. Most of our lucky opportunities come from other people; it follows that the more people we meet and interact with, the more "luck" we'll have. Here is what lucky people do:

  • They are good at building "secure and long-lasting attachments with the people that they meet." I've blogged a lot about how to help kids build social connections (and this will be the topic of the April Raising Happiness newsletter). We can teach kids the skills they need for strong social ties, and we can model it for them both in our relationships with our own kids and with our own social connections.
  • Lucky people are magnetic socially—they draw people in around them. Other people find them attractive and inviting largely because of their body language and facial expressions. Lucky people smile twice as much as unlucky people, and they engage in a lot more eye contact. Their body language is warm and open: They keep their arms uncrossed, and they often display open palms. By coaching our kids to be open to people, making eye contact and smiling at them, kids grow more comfortable with this way of interacting with others.
  • Lucky people talk to strangers. In a world where we are always coaching our kids not to talk to strangers, we rarely think about how to coach our kids to do so. The trick is in teaching kids when it is safe to talk to new people and when it is not. Safe: new kids at school, new teachers or otherwise clearly-okay grown-ups. Not safe: creepy guy following you home from school. There is a big difference, and kids know this instinctively. Lucky people greet strangers in coffee shops, talk to people in lines, chat with fellow airline passengers. When we model this behavior, our kids pick it up.

All of these things increase the odds that our kids will meet more people, which in turn increase the odds that they will have a lucky chance encounter.

2) Teach Kids to be Open to New Experiences in Life

Lucky people love new things: people, experiences, food, ways of doing things. As every parent with a picky eater knows, kids often crave routine and sameness. But when we introduce variety and change into our routines, we increase the number of chance opportunities in our lives.

We can teach kids to cope with—and eventually embrace—change by teaching them optimism and mindfulness. Fostering their creativity will also help them build this important skill. In today's ever-changing world, clearly the ability to make the most of change is a skill that will serve kids on many fronts!

3) Teach Kids to Relax

It turns out that going through life "happy-go-lucky—in a relaxed, easygoing manner—not only makes us happier, but it makes us luckier. Being relaxed helps us be attuned to opportunities around us.

On the other hand, stress makes us inattentive and unobservant. People who are made anxious in experiments become less able to spot details, even those that are right in front of their noses. When we are relaxed, we are more likely to notice when a lucky opportunity comes our way. My dad has amazing "parking karma"—there always seems to be a parking spot waiting for him right out front. Always. His relaxed nature probably explains this: It isn't that the universe provides him with better parking than others, but that he is relaxed enough to notice it.

In today's fast-paced world, it may prove hard to teach kids to be relaxed, especially if we aren't modeling relaxed behavior ourselves. Use this as an excuse to slow down and practice mindfulness, and teach it to your kids as well.

Thank you for all of your great comments recently! Please let us know how teaching luck is going for you and your children!

Christine Carter, Ph.D., is a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, whose mission it is to teach skills for a thriving, resilient and compassionate society. Best known for her science-based parenting advice, Dr. Carter follows the scientific literature in neuroscience, sociology, and psychology to understand ways that we can teach children skills for happiness, emotional intelligence, and resilience. She is the author of the new book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents and of a blog called Half Full. Dr. Carter also has a private consulting practice helping families and schools structure children's lives for happiness; she lives near San Francisco with her family.

Reference:

Wiseman, Richard (2003). The Luck Factor: The Four Essential Principles. Hyperion: New York.

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