All things considered, I'm pretty lucky. All the key indices--health, shelter, friends, food--check out remarkably well. People actually pay me to do something I love--write and develop names--which I consider to be a stroke of insanely good fortune.
On the other hand, maybe I'm not lucky at all. Here is what the choreographer Twyla Tharp has to say about luck in her marvelous book The Creative Habit:
Look at the luckiest people around you, the ones you envy, the ones who seem to have destiny falling habitually into their laps. What are they doing that singles them out? It isn’t dumb luck if it happens repeatedly. If they’re anything like the fortunate people I know, they’re prepared, they’re always working at their craft, they’re alert, they involve their friends in their work, and they tend to make others feel lucky to be around them.
So how do you get luck? Here is Tharp's advice:
I'll repeat that: to get lucky, be generous. Here's why:
Generosity is luck going in the opposite direction, away from you. If you’re generous to someone, if you do something to help him out, you are in effect making him lucky. This is important. It’s like inviting yourself into a community of good fortune.
I'm thinking today about luck and generosity and the "community of good fortune" because my friend Jon Carroll has reminded me that it's time once again for the the Untied Way. That's not a typo: it's "untied," not "united." Each December for the last umpteen or so years, Jon has devoted one column in the San Francisco Chronicle to the Untied Way, an invention of his that makes a very important point about luck and generosity. Namely: if you're blessed with the first you have an obligation regarding the second.
What is the Untied Way? Glad you asked.
The Untied Way is a nontraditional charity. It has no officers, no headquarters, no brochures, no regional offices and no guidelines. It is not a tax-deductible organization because it is not an organization at all. It issues no receipts, nor do letters come in the mail thanking you for your generous contribution.
The Untied Way does not have a Web site. The Untied Way does not sponsor a fun run, a masked ball, a gourmet dinner, a silent auction, a noisy auction, a turtle race or a runway show. It does not have buttons, badges or stickers. It will not send you address labels in the mail. The Untied Way has no overhead at all, and 100 percent of its donations go directly to those in need.
All you need to participate in the Untied Way, writes Jon, is access to an ATM, and lucky people always have access to an ATM.
Go to your ATM and take out some money. How much money is entirely your business, but the sum should be sufficient for you to notice its absence. It shouldn't hurt, but maybe it should pinch a little.
Then--and here's the beautiful, simple thing about the Untied Way--"you take your fistful of dollars and stroll down the avenue. When someone asks you for money, you give him $20. You repeat this until you are out of $20 bills."
Oh, sure: you have objections to this methodology. Jon answers your objections. The bottom line is, anyone who asks you for money probably needs money. And you have excess money. Simple as that.
Every time I read Jon's column, which varies only slightly from year to year, I'm reminded of the Jewish philosophy of charity. Actually, in Hebrew there is no equivalent of the word "charity." "Charity" comes from the Latin caritas, meaning "affection" or "esteem." Christian charity is based on love. But the Hebrew equivalent of charity is tzedakah, which means "justice." You don't have to love someone to practice tzedakah. You just have to have a sense of what's right. And--get this--the very highest form of tzedakah is utterly anonymous. You don't know who's receiving your money, the recipient doesn't know where the money came from, and you get zero credit for your unselfishness. You do it just because it's the right thing to do.
Maybe that doesn't work for you. In that case, consider Twyla Tharp's advice: to get lucky, be generous. Don't pretend to be anything but self-interested. The person who gets your $20 won't care. He's self-interested too. He gets money; you get luck. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
See you at the ATM. And ... good luck. Really.