What does lucky in love mean?
Recently I was asked about writing a “lucky in Love” blog post. I wondered what does it mean to be lucky in love?
I was initially baffled. Is this even a suitable topic? Would a researcher actually grapple with what it means exactly to be “lucky in love?” It seems so vague.
Then I discovered that authors Janice Kaplan and Barnaby Marsh, had already beat me to this question.
I fell in love with Janice’s last book, “The Gratitude Diaries.” Now she’s back with co-author Dr. Barnaby Marsh to study the science of luck. Can we make our own luck in love? Some things, it seems, are very much under our control.
In their new book, How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love, and Life, Janice and Barnaby discuss the findings of Duke psychologist and behavioral economist Dr. Daniel Ariely and other thought leaders, about what they call “the science of luck.”
Can science help us to become lucky in love?
Behavioral economics describes how human beings are not the “rational actors” we often pretend to be. Conventional neo-liberal economic theory has lacked an accurate understanding of how humans actually behave when making choices. Behavioral economics is helping to correct that deficit.
Dr. Ariely became famous for his research into how people don’t behave rationally when confronted with choices, although in the field of economics we like to pretend that they do.
Maybe you’ve been shopping for a new car for the last 3 months. You have spreadsheets and all the features broken down. But then you fall in love with an Eames chair and drop $7K (no…wait…honey…it’s a great investment!)
But I digress. What does human irrationality have to do with being lucky in love?
Here’s what Dr. Ariely says about what it means to be lucky in love:
“We have to get out of the mind-set of thinking you’re looking for the best person in the world — because the best person in the world doesn’t exist and looking is futile. At some point, you say, ‘This person is wonderful.’ Maybe somebody out there is more wonderful but I don’t want to keep searching.” Dr. Daniel Ariely.
To be lucky in love means acting like being a long-term investor
What I liked about Dr. Arielys’ approach is that it is unencumbered with couples therapy lingo but his focus is still behavioral and his questions are fresh and interesting.
Have a plan.
Ariely thinks that when it comes to being lucky in love, emotions are unreliable, and we may be attracted to someone for poorly understood reasons. Having a plan, he advises, is the best way to get lucky in love.
But love isn’t an accident either to Dr. Ariely, you become lucky in love as a result of a strategic plan on how to allocate your time and attention. To this behavioral economist, the question of “what does it mean to be lucky in love?” is an investment decision. Positivity leads to more positivity as you move from “me” to “we.”
When Janice and Barnaby spoke with Ariely, he compared looking for a life partner with investing in the stock market.
“You think you know what you’re doing,” he warns, “but when something unexpected happens, your habitual emotional responses kick in and then your plan is out the window.”
But the metaphor can only be stretched so far. When you choose a stock, the stock doesn’t change. But the moment you choose a person, something new is created. There is the same old me, now there’s you and then there is this new thing called “us.”
To be lucky in love starts with a commitment
Luck = Commitment.
Dr. Ariely says that luck is a function of time and commitment. The individual who is lucky in love plays a longer game.
“You make luck when you decide that you’re going to be here for a long time, so let’s explore and figure out what works. A relationship gets better when you invest in it. The commitment creates new opportunities.” Dr. Daniel Ariely
The secret of being lucky in love is not to worry about a better deal from somewhere else. The act of committing increases the odds that your luck will ultimately pan out.
Dr. Ariely, through the lens of behavioral economics, conveys the same truths of intimate human bonds most-often found in good couples therapy:
“If we’re going to be here for a long time, whatever I want for myself is also what I want for you…and that’s how you make luck. We can try out new things together and not worry that something won’t work.” Dr. Daniel Ariely
There’s an implied playfulness to his approach. While we are anchored by our mutual investment, we can bob and weave with what happens to us as we move through time together.
Ariely acknowledges that he’s not accounting for outlier relationships that are characterized by domestic violence or toxic, controlling behaviors. The best investors, Dr. Ariely warns, take risks with their eyes wide open. They do their “due diligence.”
What we do with our choices informs how lucky in love we are
But since Dr. Ariely is focused on behavior, he reminds us that it’s not the choice that matters, so much as what you do once the decision is made.
What happens to the brain when we commit?
It’s axiomatic of behavioral psychologists that once we make a decision, our brains assume a defensive stance, declaring that we’ve made the best choice possible.
And when a decision winds up as a tangible investment, we cling to, and defend our considered choice. It’s not surprising that we cherish our committed partners in a similar way.
A recent survey of 1,100 people found that 86% said that they would marry the same partner all over again.
In describing the behavioral mechanics of relationship commitment Ariely offered an example from real estate behavior.
“If you’re living in an apartment with a short-term lease, both you and the landlord need an ongoing series of agreements. Because if you’re deciding every day whether to extend the lease, you won’t paint or make other improvements. You’ll always be looking at other options.” Dr. Daniel Ariely.
Commitment precludes comparison
Janice and Barnaby also spoke with Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz. Barry is currently the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action.
His work focuses on an area where mental health thought leaders really need to weigh in, the intersection of psychology and economics.
Dr. Schwartz's research addresses morality, decision-making and the inter-relationships between behavioral science and society. It makes sense that he would bring a fresh perspective to what it takes to be lucky in love.
A lucky relationship is created, not discovered. There’s the next way to be lucky in love; the relationship is an act of creation--of falling in love with that which you are experiencing. Dr. Barry Schwartz
Dr. Schwartz is famous for his nationally known TED Talk: The paradox of choice. His research on choice revealed that while common sense may tell that having more choices will make you happier, it actually will leave you more anxious, and less satisfied.
Schwartz discovered that when we have an endless array of excellent options, we’re always going to fret about missing out on potentially better alternatives that may be yet undetected.
The more choice we have...the higher our expectations.
Schwartz noticed in his research while it’s axiomatic that well-run markets afford first world countries a staggering array of choices, these choices actually deny us satisfaction with our end results, even when they produce good results.
The Tinder Effect…more choice…less luck…
“If you’re looking to find the best, you’re never going to put in the time and effort to make what you have the best. It’s the Tinder effect. Why invest the time and commitment necessary to make a relationship grow when another option is just a swipe away?” Dr. Barry Schwartz
Time. Effort. And avoiding places where you should not let yourself go. A relationship means putting all of your eggs in one basket, not several, and then tending to and nurturing that basket.
You’ll never meet the love of your life at the Whiskey-au-Go-Go. David Crosby
What does biological anthropology have to say about being lucky in love?
Dr. Helen E. Fisher, Ph.D., is one of our most esteemed anthropologists. She is also the author of four books on the science of romantic love. Fisher has conducted extensive research on the evolution, expression, and science of love and describes herself, decades into her research, as still fascinated by love.
“You’re trying to win life’s greatest prize — which is a life partner and a chance to send your DNA to the future but going out on dates can feel like a job, and it takes work. You have to dress up and be charming and have clean hair.” Dr. Helen Fisher.
Academic cred aside, Dr, Fisher is perhaps most famous for being the chief scientific advisor to the website Match.com.
Fisher is regularly asked how technology has changed love and dating. And while Helen reports that 40% of singles have dated somebody they met online, she insists that technology can’t change love the bio-mechanics of love one bit.
That’s because, says Fisher, love may be a many splendid thing but it’s also a basic human drive. Fisher and her research team once did an experiment where they put people who were in the throes of limerence into fMRI scanners to study their brain function.
They discovered that the neurochemical dopamine is closely connected to romantic love.
“There’s a little factory in the base of the brain that makes dopamine, and it’s right next to the regions that regulate thirst and hunger. Those are very basic drives — you don’t get rid of them.” Helen Fisher
Is the drive to be lucky in love more than sex or attachment?
Romantic love hijacks our normally critical brains. The flaws of our partner can be readily explained or excused as we positively spin on all things related to our beloved.
As this honeymoon phase predictably winds down, you’ll notice more imperfections in your partner and that’s probably when you’ll stop feeling so damn lucky.
Fishers’ research tells us to focus on the admirable virtues in your partner (what Gottman calls positive sentiment override), rather than on the traits you don’t like, In doing this, you’ll be better able to continue feeling lucky in love as you exit the critical early stage of the relationship.
Trade-offs are accepted.
One of the keys to being lucky in love may lie in understanding that all choices are trade-offs. When you feel lucky in love, the good outweighs the bad, and looking for a “better deal” doesn’t even occur to you.
Final thoughts on how to be lucky in love
Someone once said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Behavioral economics tells us that if we want to be lucky in love, then love must truly be our aim. We must be intent on finding a relationship that we are prepared to invest in…to the exclusion of attractive others.
Intimate relationships are an intentional act of creation.
Research on how humans choose tells us that more is sometimes less, so when you find a relationship worth investing in, discourage new attractive others from presenting themselves.
Get off your social media and focus on your new investment. Online couples therapy can help you do that.
And behavioral anthropology also reminds us that limerence typically fades after about 18 months or so. We’ll all eventually be confronted with our partners' delightful flaws and charming idiosyncrasies. What we do in the face of that adjustment matters.
Is being lucky in love so cool that you don’t have to eat your fruits and vegetables?
No, but it’s probably just as beneficial…
“The magnitude of the effects of marital happiness on health are comparable to those found for dietary recommendations like consumption of fruit and vegetables." Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, psychologist and director of Ohio State University's Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.
Being lucky in love means a satisfying, intimate relationship. We already know from stacks of research going back decades that happy marriages reliably lower the risks of dying after heart bypass surgery, developing diabetes, or even getting Alzheimer's disease.
A happy marriage has even been reported to help alleviate the suffering fatigue and pain from treatment for breast cancer.
An analysis of nearly 300,000 people 45 and older found that women who have never married have a 60% higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease than their married counterparts: for men in a comparable cohort, it's 32%.
Research reveals the same truth time and time again; happy marriages increase the odds of achieving healthy longevity.
More time for more love
Being lucky in love can be a lifesaver. New research indicates that a committed romantic relationship is linked to an overall 49% lower mortality risk. All things being equal, being lucky in love may bestow more time for even more love.
Once upon a time, there was pushback on this notion. It was once suggested that the reason why married people had a higher quality of life and lived longer was because smarter, healthier, more privileged people were more likely to get married in the first place.
Another example of this “pre-selection bias” argument is what researchers labeled the “nag factor,” which was defined as partners with good self-care habits exhorting and encouraging each other to curb bad habits and acquire healthier ones.
Researchers were so concerned about the idea that research about “married” people might be tainted by pre-selection bias that researchers went back to the drawing board and designed new research that was carefully controlled for preselection.
And what did they find?
The same thing. Positive, measurable benefits of a happy marriage impacting physical and emotional well-being to such an extent, that researchers are now looking to socio-biology and neuroscience to explain the power of being lucky in love.
Barnaby Marsh on the attitudes that define how to be lucky in love
When Barnaby Marsh was interviewed by Forbes magazine, he described a behavioral roadmap for increasing your chances of being lucky in love:
A few general rules come to mind. The first is to be observant and open to possibility. This means pushing beyond your comfort zone, trying new things, meeting new people, and so forth. This will give greater exposure to opportunity.
Second, be useful to others, and be the kind of person that others want to have around. We might like to feel that we are responsible for our success, but the reality is that a great deal of possibility (and luck) comes in random ways from other people.
Third, use lucky breaks to make more lucky breaks; this is what successful luck-makers do. Barnaby Marsh.
What you focus on expands.
Couples therapy thought leader Dan Wile said it this way:
When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years. Dan Wile
But we’re lucky to get to do that because, as Dan also said, “despite what you might have been told, you can expect your relationship to solve your problems, fill gaps in your personality, and help you love yourself.” Good couples therapy can help you get there.
How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love, and Life by Janice Kaplan and Barnaby Marsh. Copyright © 2018 by Janice Kaplan and Barnaby Marsh. Reprinted with permission of Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.