Are you a lucky person?

Gayle looks at the superstitions and suppositons that can help us get on with life - or become a tiresome worry

Most of us rely on luck rather than good judgement sometimes. We might touch wood, refuse to walk under a ladder, salute a magpie or avoid stepping on cracks in the pavement. If I spill salt, I still throw a pinch over my left shoulder (into the face of the devil hovering there) in obedience to childhood superstition.

Last week, I was a winning contestant on the TV game show The Weakest Link - and I feel lucky to have walked away with the money. Lucky that no-one voted for me on the one round where I was, in fact, the weakest link and lucky that, although I got several questions wrong, other people made more mistakes than me.

Thinking of yourself as a lucky person has a positive effect, apparently. If you believe that good things are likely to happen to you, you will go on feeling lucky despite the setbacks that we all experience.

People who already believe that they are unlucky are more likely to be overwhelmed by misfortune.

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Of course, there are some things that are hard for the most optimistic of us to cope with - bereavement, ill health, relationship breakdown or redundancy, for example - but the 'lucky' ones among us will recover better.

Gambling is the arena where we are more likely to call on the power of luck. We buy a lottery ticket at odds of millions to one, in the hope that we might be that one. Statistics about the number of times a particular ball has featured in the draw are compiled, as if past performance could somehow predict the likelihood of that number being drawn again.

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But perhaps the most startlingly irrational evidence of a phenomenon built on luck is another TV game show, Deal Or No Deal. The simple formula where people open numbered boxes at random and could walk away with anything from a penny to £250,000 attracts huge audiences, fascinated by the spectacle of contestants relying on their supposed telepathic powers, elaborate numerical systems or the power of positive thinking.

Presenter Noel Edmonds famously believes that he got the Deal or No Deal job through 'Cosmic Ordering' - or as we might say, making a wish.

Apparently Noel is given to saying things like: “The way you're playing the game is more powerful than luck itself!” as if luck were a force which can be tapped into rather than a concept describing unpredictable outcomes.

After all, the word 'luck' comes from the name of the Norse god Loki, a rather spiteful trickster like the English Puck, as likely to be tripping people up in the dark as delivering unexpected good fortune.

Belief in the power of luck is underpinned by a strong streak of fatalism, epitomised by the Scottish saying: 'What's for ye will no pass by ye.' Whether good luck or bad, we will all get what is coming to us so we might as well greet it cheerfully.

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