"In the queer mess of human destiny, the determining factor is luck."
-- William E. Woodward
When Bernard Gittelson turned the 80-year-old concept of biological cycles into a 1977 best seller, he says, "Everyone said to me, 'Gittelson, you're a lucky guy.'
"That always bothered me," admits the 62-year-old author of Biorhythm, which has sold more than 3 million copies, has been translated into 12 languages and is the basis for a column syndicated to more than 100 newspapers. "I've been working my ass off since I was 14. Lucky, hell."
Gittelson's life story mirrors the classic American Dream. The son of immigrant parents, he studied psychology, owned a public relation firm by age 31 and today heads 12 companies that produce everything from vitamins to newsletters.
He became intrigued by "what makes good luck" several years ago, while reading Milton and Rose Friedman's book, Free to Choose, on a flight back to New York from Tokyo. "Here was a man who had won the Nobel Prize," he says, "had a book on the best-seller list and was the star of his own television series on economics. 'What a lucky guy,' I said to myself. But all that success didn't just happen -- he made it happen. This guy made his own luck."
Gittelson researched the lives of dozens of other "lucky" people, examined the techniques and attitudes that contributed to their success and wrote How to Make Your Own Luck (Warner, 237 pages, $13.95).
"The luck you can make for yourself," he stresses, "has nothing to do with blind chance. Blind chance is how one person out of millions happens to win a fortune in a lottery. No sensible person bases his future hopes on such a long shot."
But unlike the lottery winner who "does nothing but wait and hope," he says, "lucky people do something to bring about a desired result. They keep their antennae tuned for fresh ideas, they listen to people, they know what they want, do their homework and go after it."
Even in astrology, says Gittelson, who claims he was the first entrepreneur to offer computerized horoscopes, "luck isn't just in the stars. They say the stars impel, they don't compel. The fact that the planets are right may only be of importance if you do something. Not if you sit there.
"The Chinese call luck opportunity, and they say that it knocks every day at your door. Some people hear it, and some people do not. Some people let it come into their house; some people keep it waiting . . . It's not enough to hear opportunity knock. You must let him in, greet him, make friends and work together."
Good luck happens when "opportunity meets preparation," says University of New Orleans management Prof. Michael LeBoeuf, author of a book on creativity called Imagineering (McGraw-Hill, 256 pages, $5.95). "A lot of people think they have no control over their luck, but that's not true.
"You can control opportunity to some degree, and you can control preparation almost entirely. It may be chance that you're sitting in a drugstore when a famous movie producer walks in, but you won't get anywhere unless you're prepared to step into the spotlight. Lucky people prepare themselves to capitalize on opportunities and take steps to minimize their losses in case misfortune strikes."
Good luck is largely a result of attitude, says journalist Max Gunther, who has interviewed more than 1,000 people about what made them lucky or unlucky. "Lucky people have a special way of talking to themselves and handling themselves," he says. "When they enter a room filled with people they've never met, they don't shrink from the notion of meeting strangers, they relish the idea of plunging into a room full of possible adventures."
Gunther first became interested in luck when "a lucky break" (being in the right place at the right time) helped him land a job at Time magazine 20 years ago. Since that day, he's asked virtually everyone he's interviewed whether they consider themselves lucky or unlucky, and why. In 1976, he compiled his findings into The Luck Factor (Macmillan, 181 pages, $7.95).
"Luck," he says, "plays a bigger role in people's lives than most of us would like to admit."
The basic difference between "lucky" and "unlucky" people, Gunther says, is that "lucky people have a spider-web network of friends and contacts, and unlucky people tend to be loners. Most of the big lucky breaks in life come through knowing people. The more people you know, the more chances you have to get lucky."
The unluckiest person Gunther ever met was a "Bowery bum I bought a meal for so he'd tell me his story. Here was a guy at 50 without two dimes to rub together, and the main story of his life was that he was an extreme loner. No one would ever call him -- even if he had a phone -- with some great job offer or a nice woman to meet. He was totally alone."
By contrast, he says, "The luckiest man I've ever talked to was Kirk Douglas, the actor. I called his agent, hoping to possibly get a brief interview with such a great man, and he happened to be right there in the office and got right on the phone. He was very courteous and answered all my questions."
A "very gregarious guy," Douglas' big break came through a friend he met while both were struggling young performers in New York. Her name was Lauren Bacall.
The biggest misconception about luck, says Gunther, "is that lucky people are optimists. Most people think of the happy-go-lucky fool who stumbles on the pot of gold, but in reality lucky people are always prepared for the worst. A lucky person never walks into a room without looking for the exit."
Luck also requires "an element of risk," he says. "You must put yourself out into the stream of luck. If you simply sit hunched on the riverbank, it's likely that nothing bad will happen to you, but nothing good will happen to you either."
Lucky people consider life "a grand adventure," he says, and are "always ready to embrace the good and flee the bad."
As the great piano virtuoso Arthur Rubinstein summed it up in his autobiography, My Young Years:
"Yes, I am very lucky, but I have a little theory about this. I have noticed through experience and observation that providence, nature, God, or what I would call the power of creation seems to favor human beings who accept and love life unconditionally, and I am certainly one who does with all my heart. So I have discovered as a result of what I can only call miracles that whenever my inner self desires something subconsciously, life will somehow grant it to me."I think you're in luck. Every day from two to three, he lets his heart rule his head." (By Lorenz, 1978, The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.)