I realize that everything I say in this post can be explained by confirmation bias and selective memory. But that's the part I find interesting. So here we go.

I have a hypothesis that everyone is born with the same amount of luck, possibly because we are a computer simulation, but that's not my point today. My point is that luck doesn't appear to be spread evenly across a person's life. Some people use up all of their luck early in life and die young. Some people start out life in bad circumstances and finish strong.

For example, Lance Armstrong had an amazing life until the doping allegations. Steve Jobs was on top of the world but died young. Magic Johnson was frickin' Magic Johnson until he got infected with HIV. John F. Kennedy was the fornicator in chief until someone shot him in the head. If the pattern holds, I give Justin Bieber a year before he lands in jail.

On the flip side, Halle Berry slept in her car at one point in her early life. Later she won an Academy Award. Oprah had a rough childhood but finished strong. And so on.

You can probably think of lots of people who violate my hypothesis, apparently experiencing continuous good luck or continuous bad luck throughout their entire lives. But my observation is that people who have consistently bad luck with money, for example, are often having more than their share of sex and/or love, and vice versa. And famous people have more than their fair share of depression and mental illness. According to researchers who study happiness, money doesn't change your enjoyment of life that much. People who look extraordinarily lucky might be a lot less lucky than they appear to be.

Further complicating my analysis is the fact that people don't always grab the opportunities that luck provides. Some struggling folks might also be the luckiest, but it won't show if they don't take advantage of the luck when it wanders into their lives. Other people might be aggressive about exploiting the crumbs of luck they find, making it seem as though they have extra luck. Serial entrepreneurs come to mind.

Personally, I've been unusually lucky in my career, but if you factor in my childhood, and calculate the average, my total lifetime luck would be about average.

I'm curious about whether you perceive luck the same way. Taking into consideration your entire life, professionally and personally, has your luck been about average?

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Jan 12, 2013
My understanding is that everyone born in the first world is much luckier than the people born everywhere else. Being born male is luckier than being born female. I'm not sure your theory holds globally.
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Jan 12, 2013
Oops! There should have been a "don't" in there: It doesn't mean that some people don't "have all the luck", etc. These things seem to happen. But they are not "luck". They are "pseudo-luck", randomness pretending that she's a Lady.
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Jan 12, 2013
I think another informal logical fallacy, the Gambler's Fallacy, may be hidden in the idea of somebody "using up their luck" young. To my mind, luck is purely random. Of course, that doesn't mean that some people "have all the luck" or "run out of luck" or are "jinxed". Individual luck curves mostly ressemble Bell curves with extremely bad luck and extremely good luck uncommon. But given the enormous number of curves, some of them are not Bell-curves at all. Some people have more of one kind of luck, some more of another, and a very tiny number have tremendous good or bad luck in long streaks.

Think of "runs" in gambling. The Gambler Fallacy consists of thinking that the dice are hot or that you are over-due for success. In reality, long runs of wins are no more likely or unlikely than any individual long run--it's just that they look different. A run of thirty one heads in a row when tossing a coin is precisely as probable as any run of thirty one tosses, but most of those "runs" look random. A few look weirdly meaningful, such as alternating heads and tails, or fifteen heads and sixteen tails, etc.

To my mind, the phenomenon that Scott is talking about is an illusion. But if you could (in advance) know the "luck" curve of a given person, you might think indeed that some people have all the luck and some people are jinxed. Randomness includes a lot of pseudo-order. Chaos includes a lot of pockets of order.

The philosophers have no missed this possibility. Some of them question the reality of cause and effect. There may be no such thing. It may be an allusion caused by living in a bubble of seeming order. Our luck could run out at some random moment, just as physicists speculate a "phase shift" in the real vacuum could wipe out our whole "universe".

Another possibility is that the philospophical stock broker, Nicholas Nassim Taleb, best known for his theory of "black swans"--high cost or high pay-out rare events that screw up the idea that stock markets are rational and grade on a Bell Curve, may be right.

Much of the time luck seems to be random and seems to conform to a Bell Curve--but a few extra-ordinary events that are very rare screw up the Bell Curve. To the lay person, it looks like a Bell Curve, but to a mathematician it is only a pseudo-Bell Curve, just as random numbers (to all intents and purposes) might be only pseudo-random. This is the case with lottery numbers. They are generated by random number generators with flaws. They are pseudo-random numbers, generated by a defective random-number generator.

Personally I admire Taleb's theory although it has become somewhat corrupted in being passed around by the media. I also believe that history is random, chaotic, to a degree that few people, even smart historians, admit. It has to be. Even when history takes place indoors, it is influenced by the weather (barometric pressure and humidity get indoors) and the weather is random. Since we depend on the weather (and great and small events are determined by the weather) everything is pseudo-orderly but in reality, random and chaotic, even the orbit of the Earth around the Sun.

The Earth does not travel around the Sun in a neat circle. It does not travel in a neat ellipse. It doesn't even travel in a somewhat off-kilter ellipse, although each planet draws a pretty cool Spirograph(TM) design as seen from each other planet. The Earth is following a path as prone to disruption as a Lorenz curve.

The Earth could fall into the Sun within our lifetimes after spending billions of years going round and round in not quite the same ellipse twice.

Not likely. But that's one Hell of a big black swan, and it is real, making our planet's "luck curve" far from a Bell curve of mediocre luck relieved from time to time by a few extreme cases of good or bad luck.

A Black Swan is not just improbable, rare or extreme. It is inherently a chaotic disruption of normalcy. Most of the money ever made or loss in the stock market has been made or lost on a few days out of a year, in a few years out of centuries.

If you could predict when and how the black swans show up, you could be richer than a thousand Bill Gates. You could own the markets.
Jan 11, 2013
Dilbro, your points are taken, people overcome many things in life and can consider themselves lucky. I was refering to individuals which life seems to constantly kick in the teeth, whom never catch a break. There are people that luck does seem to elude and those are the people I was pointing out. My wife is a counseler and has helped many, but some just seem to never find peace.
Jan 11, 2013

[Erm...you DISAGREE with the rest of my post? Could you perhaps explain why? What is it that you find contentious? ]

Okay. Since you ask, some of what you regard as luck has to do with the society/times you were born into, which I do not regard as personal luck. And adolescents harming themselves certainly poses no probs for Scotts hypothesis; if you kill yourself before the bad luck ends how do you know if you were going to have good luck later? And if you harm yourself thats you thats hurting you, not luck.

As for the bits concerning you personally, well, as I've said before you can ruin a good comment with too many qualifiers. Of course I have no idea what your life has been like so cannot speak to that. My comment was directed to those parts of your post I could speak to.
Jan 11, 2013
Luck and happiness can't be quantified and measured in any meaningful way, but maybe effort can. People may not have a limited amount of luck, whatever that is, but they may certainly have a limited amount of energy and time. Some may put a lot of their effort into getting rich at the expense of their personal lives, some may put a lot of effort into their personal lives at the expense of their careers, etc., making it seem to balance out.
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Jan 11, 2013
This doesn't seem legit. Kids are born all the time with horrible diseases that kill them before they even escape infancy. I can't imagine how someone in that situation could be said to have had the same amount of luck in their life as someone like Bill Gates.
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Jan 11, 2013
The best counterexamples to the "luck is equally distributed" theory are to be found at your local NICU. There are babies who are born sick, possibly in pain, many of whom die a few hours or days after birth. Sure, there are plenty who make it out of the NICU, and some of those are chronically ill or permanently disabled.
Does luck only start averaging up after you make it to adulthood? Then your sample size is inherently skewed.
Jan 11, 2013
[Actually, the baseline happiness in those 3rd world nations is about the same as ours. -- Scott] ]

Um...Since when is this about HAPPINESS? Though I would feel extremely lucky to be happy in the face of insurmountable obstacles, such as happy people from third world countries might feel, luck is NOT the same as happiness. If the whole point of your post is that the higher one's personal influence (via money, power, charisma, fandom, etc.) gets they also become equally unhappy just to strike some sort of balance, than say that. I'll still disagree with you, but for entirely different reasons.
Jan 11, 2013

Erm...you DISAGREE with the rest of my post? Could you perhaps explain why? What is it that you find contentious?
Is it that you feel people who aren't having their daily requirements of food and water are, in fact, lucky?
Is it that people who resort to the unthinkable because of overwhelming personal adversity don't really have it all that bad?
Is it that without even knowing me you presume my luck is someday going to be equal to both a child who dies of smallpox as well as multi-million dollar athletes and actors who, on top of this ludicrous wealth distribution, don't even really have to respect or respond to the same laws that the rest of us peons do because of their celebrity status?
I think its safe to say that all three of these premises are inarguable, which is why I find your response baffling to say the least.
Jan 11, 2013
I had an absolutely crap childhood but in later life, the person who caused the misery died and all his money came to me. I now have a comfortable life.
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Jan 11, 2013
You might want to check out the new research on $ and happiness.

Seems like the old research might have been wrong:
Jan 11, 2013
Not to be too rude about this, but are you !$%*!$% insane?

Yeah, there's hard work to be had. Its also nice that Bill Gates earned his first million the second he came out of the womb. Talk about "lucky".

I don't begrudge Bill Gates. Envy? Yes. And he's worked pretty damn hard. But c'mon. If I had 0.0001% of his luck, I'd be at least a millionaire. FYI - I'm not.

And if it we are a simulation, even a half assed programmer would be able to distribute luck using a random generator.

Honestly...this has to be close to one of your dumbest blogs.

No offense.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 11, 2013
"Life is a state of mind."
--Chance the Gardener
Jan 11, 2013
Theory of equal luck doesn't hold very well in the context of 3rd world nations, infant mortality, people with chronic illness, handicaps, and so on.

I agree largely with the "take advantage of opportunities" part of your post -- having known quite a few people who squandered their youth, squandered their employment, squandered their education, and so on...

[Actually, the baseline happiness in those 3rd world nations is about the same as ours. -- Scott]
Jan 11, 2013

[.You seem to be consistently losing the objectivity that I, as a young man, learned to crave from the Dilbert experience..]

Though I disagree with the rest of your post I have noticed something like this over the years in Dilbert and in Scotts blogs and attribute it to him losing touch with what its like for those of us who have to work in cubicle jobs and worse to survive. There are times when I think Scott should take a cubicle job for a bit just to remind himself of what its like.
Jan 11, 2013
Personally my luck this far has been total !$%*! except for the one major advantage of being born in a first world country in a family that, although host to many problems, wasn't struggling too much to make ends meet. If you take into consideration that anyone who has clean running water is better off than 99.9% of all the other people who live now or who were ever to live throughout history, it seems all us internet folk are well in advance of their luck quotient...Anyway, I personally feel very positive about my future.

However, I cannot help but feel your hypothesis asks us to ignore all the young people who do not make it through adolescence, and generally through overwhelming adversity resort to suicide or other forms of self harm. They sure don't seem afforded this 'portion of luck', even if we were to ignore the other 99.9% of people who have suffered throughout history because of real 'UNLUCKY' problems like not having food to eat and drinking stagnant water full of microbial parasites.

The very fact that you'd even consider this 'luck pool' as reality sort of bothers me Scott...You seem to be consistently losing the objectivity that I, as a young man, learned to crave from the Dilbert experience...
Jan 11, 2013
The dice of God are always loaded. The world looks like a multiplication-table, or a mathematical equation, which, turn it how you will, balances itself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 11, 2013
[Luck is irrelevant or non-existent. ]

How do you explain where and when you're born other than as luck?

[Programmed simulation. - Scott]

+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 11, 2013
If was hungry and I was in a soup kitchen getting free food, I'd consider that lucky.

I'd prefer to be a billionaire, dating super models and eating in 5 star restaurants, But that doesn't mean I wouldn't consider myself lucky to be in the vicinity of free food if I was homeless.

Happiness and luck are relative to your needs and situation.

Mentally ill people can be happy and consider themselves lucky.
I think it's wrong to assume that disabilities or one horrible life event consumes and defines a person.

Are you lucky?
It's possible that there isn't a single billionaire on the entire planet that thinks you're lucky, if they're judging you by their own lives and lifestyle.

But that doesn't mean you aren't lucky, or happy.
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