Your friends and family have ideas about why you’re single—they think you’re too picky, or too needy or too set in your ways. And so, you dutifully work on these things. You date beyond your type. You cultivate a full life with fun, interesting friends. You push yourself to try rock-climbing or public speaking or anything else that initially terrifies you.
In other words, you do your best to iron out all your quirks and flaws in the hopes that one day you’ll be capable of a lifelong partnership.
But what if you were already qualified for true love? What if the only thing you needed to do differently was meet the right person? What if it all boils down to dumb luck?
This thought can be both liberating and disheartening. Liberating because it’s quite a relief to think you don’t need to change yourself to find love—that you’re just fine as you are. Disheartening because if finding a partner is completely up to chance—well, that’s pretty unsettling. That means there’s nothing you can do. After all, we can’t control how lucky we are.
Not so, says Dr. Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Herfordshire in England and author of The Luck Factor. Wiseman studied one-thousand extremely lucky and unlucky people and found that kismet is more complicated than we think, and he offers suggestions for generating serendipity.
1) Focus on the opportunity you have, rather than the one you want
A distant acquaintance invites you to a party three towns away, promising that lots of attractive single people will be in attendance. So you put on lipstick and make the hour-long drive, looking forward to an evening of flirting with cute, available men. Then you arrive to a room full of couples and single women.
It can feel like a monster piece of bad luck—you’ve come all this way, and now you’re not going to meet anyone. But a lucky person will be aware that while she may not meet her future husband tonight, there are lots of other possible connections. She might make a new friend or get a lead on a great job or apartment—and that could be the thing that a year from now puts her in the same room as her future spouse.
That’s why lucky people so often have these kooky kismet stories: They met their new business partner at the DMV; they got a lead on a new apartment while backpacking in Peru. “The key thing that makes a person lucky is flexibility,” said Wiseman. “Lucky people have many different routes to achieve what they want to achieve and are not afraid to switch from one to another when things don’t appear to be working out.”
2) Notice your good luck
A friend introduces you to a sweet, smart woman and you ask her to dinner. Before the date, your friend calls and says one of two things.
a) “I just talked to Emily. She really enjoyed meeting you and is looking forward to your date.”
b) “I just talked to Emily. She was sort of surprised you asked her out, since she could barely remember taking to you that night, but she figured it was worth a shot.”
How will these two very different bits of feedback affect your behavior on the date?
Wiseman says that one of the reasons things so often seem to work out for lucky people is that they go into situations believing things will work out, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you go into the date happy and relaxed, you’re probably going to have a better time than if you’re nervous and defensive.
In other words, lucky people are lucky because they think they’re lucky. But where does that leave you? If you’re single and searching and feel like fate has not been on your side, you can’t force yourself to believe something different.
But you can start collecting data. Wiseman advises keeping a journal in which you record every lucky thing that happens to you: you caught your train at the very last second; a co-worker gave you theater tickets she can’t use; the cashier found a $1 off coupon on something you’re already buying.
In other words, take note of the ordinary bits of good luck that happen during the course of a day or week. “Once you see these small events, it starts to refocus who you think you are,” said Wiseman, “and that kicks off some much bigger changes.”