Service of Enough Already: When [Too Many] Things Keep Going Wrong

May 2nd, 2016

Categories: Attitude, Bad Luck, Luck

I was once pick pocketed at a personal low point and I’m sure it happened because I was both distracted and nervous, therefore a great target for a talented person. I was having more than a bad day or week—it was more like a bad year–but, as a good and sage friend often says calmly, regardless of the calamity, “this, too, shall pass.” And, indeed, it did.

There are ways to help things along according to Sue Shellenbarger in her Wall Street Journal article, “Having a Bad Week? Tricks for Turning It Around.” She wrote: “You can’t fend off all bad luck, but if you change your reaction, it can have a very powerful effect.”

She noted: “Mishaps make people feel anxious and uncertain, and often lead them to look for patterns as a way to regain a sense of control, according to a 2008 study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Northwestern University.

“At these moments, it is worth remembering that misfortune is often a random event. There is always a probability that several bad things will happen at once, says Jane. L. Risen, an associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a researcher on judgment and magical thinking.”

We all know folks who think that the universe is against them. Others consider themselves lucky no matter what—that things could be worse, so they feel grateful. Richard Wiseman conducted a study years ago that corroborates the usefulness of this approach. An example of how it plays out might be that if a right-handed person breaks a hand they react, “Isn’t it lucky I broke my left hand!”

There’s also the issue of the jinx. Shellenbarger described a man for whom the roof fell in after his friend observed that his decade old jeep never needed repairs. Not only did it suddenly break down the next week but his credit card was stolen, his computer crashed losing his book manuscript, he sprained his ankle and had an unfortunate first date, but that wasn’t all. To pull himself together he headed for his motorboat and a calming ride but then its steering mechanism locked as he was making a turn with the result that it travelled in circles for ages, in front of an audience on land who thought his predicament hilarious.

“At times we get so rattled by a bit of bad luck that we make things worse,”  Shellenbarger wrote. “A belief that you are unlucky has been linked to deficits in decision-making skills, self-control and shifting from one task to another, according to a 2013 study led by John Maltby, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Leicester in England.”

Shellenbarger described a woman who suffered a ridiculous number of catastrophes ending up with a broken wrist so she couldn’t work. “She took comfort in thinking about her network of family members and friends, who would type for her if necessary. She credits her positive attitude as the reason she’s recovering faster than expected. “Another helpful technique is mental time travel, Dr. Risen says. Imagine yourself in the future; think about how, after the misfortune is over, you’ll have a good story to tell.”

Do you knock on wood? It helps, she wrote, because it, like finding a four leaf clover or carrying something that you think brings luck, will inspire positive expectations “as if you’re shielding yourself from bad luck or drawing good fortune your way.”

What techniques do you use to turn around a spate of bad luck? Do you have talismans or routines that break a spell or help give you back your equilibrium?



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10 Responses to “Service of Enough Already: When [Too Many] Things Keep Going Wrong”

  1. hb Said:

    Sometimes you do pick the most difficult to explain topics to discuss!

    Although profoundly pessimistic by inclination, I tend to think luck comes to those prepared to take advantage of it. That means that if you work hard and are ready to take advantage of the breaks when they come along, you’ll do better than sitting back waiting and praying or practicing voodoo or whatever.

    That said, luck is luck. It really is inexplicable. When I was in school, back around 1950, I had a Japanese exchange student friend who was a math wizard (and later went on to a distinguished career as a physicist). We were all a bit in awe of him because he was a Yamamoto and closely related to the famous and exceptionally capable Japanese wartime admiral.

    One night — I don’t know why — I told him that I had the mental power to make a coin come up heads each time I flipped it. He, not unreasonably, did not believe me. How it happened, I don’t know, but I then flipped a penny and it came up heads 23 straight times. The poor kid was really shook and insisted that I must have cheated, which I hadn’t.

    Looking back on it, I just wish I’d applied this extraordinary “hot” streak to the stock market. I might be in there with Donald Trump and Hillary trying to buy an election.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The stock market, roulette table or slot machine might have worked as well as the coin toss–or not. If you want to be “lucky” all the time, hone your skills at the slick deal.

    I think that luck often comes when you don’t need it or aren’t looking or hoping for it and that the opposite tends to be true. Or maybe when feeling down on your luck, you notice the tiniest additional negative while when feeling lucky, nothing much bothers you.

    Once I won a $300 gift certificate at Pottery Barn through an in-store drawing. I felt so lucky! I imagine it was equal to $500 now. I was able to buy myself a treat and my parents as well and had money left over. I felt like a billionaire.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Life isn’t fair, so it’s no surprise that some are continually blessed and others cursed, with the majority falling pretty much in between.

    There is no cure for bad luck, so my reaction is to treat myself in one way or another, showing spite to the offending gods. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Guess much depends upon which ones step in, and at what speeds!

    While talismans and/or applying superstitions may be comforting, results appear to be random. Black cats are rarely harbingers of bad luck, and four leaf clovers don’t create lottery winners. If either these myths had any truth to them, the cats would have been shot on the spot and by now extinct, and we would all be as rich as Croesus!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Several friends had or have black cats and they are/were very sweet.

    I avoid walking under ladders because I don’t want something to fall on my head from above as much as anything else.

    However, I do pick up pennies and other coins. And I admit to thinking, when I do, “This day is going to be good,” or “This ride on the train will pass without a hitch.” I have never kept track…And while I don’t consider it luck when I get the quarter in the marketing cart that someone has been too lazy to return–where by clicking to another cart, the quarter pops out–it puts me in a good mood. This is irrational, as I’m about to spend upwards of $50 for not much food, but there we are.

    One thing that does help if a day has been horrible is to believe that tomorrow must be better and usually it is.

  5. Judith Trojan Said:

    Great post! Made me think; made me laugh; put my bad “patch” in perspective. Arthur Miller wrote a great play focusing on this theme: “The Man Who Had All the Luck.”

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Thanks Judy,

    I’d now like to read “The Man Who Had All the Luck.”

    It’s amazing how many lives that seem perfect aren’t if you scratch the surface. You think that so-and-so was born under a lucky star, that everything works out for them, and at times it turns out not true. Being both gullible and literal, one of the first times I remember such an instance was in college. A dorm mate had a wardrobe I coveted and every Saturday night she went out with another Harvard man. Turned out her family was poor as church mice and her mother, who put on the dog, spent her last nickel on the girl’s wardrobe. She boasted that her father was a lawyer but he was an ambulance-chaser and didn’t lead the life described. Pressure was on this kid to marry a successful Harvard man. She had so many dates because the word was out that she would sleep with anyone. The whole thing was tragic as she never saw the same guy twice. Nightmare.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    Sue Shellenbarger’s thinking is very savvy. Certainly being rattled by negative occurrences, reacting thinking about gloom and doom makes you less able to notice positive moments and opportunities that arise. It is really helpful to try to turn lemons into lemonades. John Maltby’s study that a negative attitude, like considering yourself unlucky, can be linked to “Deficits in decision-making skills, self-control and shifting from one task to another…” As for talimsans, I confess to having an assortment which I either keep on my dresser and in the boxes they came in, often wear, like a ribbon bracelet from the a Church in Bahia, Brazil, tied with 3 knots for 3 wishes and which has to fall off by itself, as well as other miscellania. I am not religious but when I had serious medical treatment the the doctor agreed to not cut off the bracelet. One never knows…..

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I have a string bracelet on my wrist along with gold ones I wear every day. It has some kind of beads on it and over time, as they got wet from doing dishes and through wear and tear, they are frittering away as is the string. Until it breaks, I will wear it. Tried to replace it but the store lost track of the woman who made them. I have another one that I’ve added to all the rest…I guess the effect is early gypsy.

    Good for that doctor! I’m with you…one never knows. I think the doctor was grand.

  9. David Reich Said:

    I don’t know if there’s bad luck or good luck…it’s just luck or chance.

    I do think “bad” luck can put us in a frame of mind where other bad things can be more prone to happen. Also, if we’re in a negative frame of mind, even small negatives can get blown up.

    When bad stuff happens, you must try to push past it. Not always easy,but you must try or you can fall into a well of self-pity and doubt.

    Years ago, I unexpectedly lost my job through politics. I allowed myself 24 hours to feel mad and scared, and then set to making finding a new job my priority. It worked. I didn’t allow negative thoughts to get in my way. Within 2 weeks, I had a better job paying a lot more.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Dustin Hoffman got a job at holiday party time in “Kramer vs. Kramer,” pulling away the art director from the boozing and jollity. A salary was essential for his keeping his little boy in his divorce case.

    According to Epictetus, and countless others after him, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” I am not sure it’s always possible to react as you did and I commend you. Sometimes circumstances get the best of a person at least for more than a day.

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