Saturday, 22 August 2009

On Why I Am Lucky

Two things have prompted this post. First, the Wonderspouse has recently blogged about luck with regard to “making it” as a writer and nearly caused a fight. Secondly, I’ve been reading 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman, who is well worth following on twitter if you don’t already!

I have long had plans to do “a proper blog post” on luck. I get intensely annoyed by people who say “you make your own luck”, because, as far as I define “luck” it is the one thing you cannot make. Usually, when I get annoyed by these people I think of all the bad luck that life has thrown at me or my loved ones. The fact that I am unable to have children is not my fault – it’s bad luck. The fact that my best friend from school got cancer and died when she was 33 was even worse luck for her – she didn’t smoke, eat badly, drink excessively or have relatives who died prematurely, she was simply VERY unlucky. Those who say “you make your own luck” are clearly defining the word very differently from how I define it.

However, since I am not really in argumentative mood at the moment, and am generally feeling reasonably good, I decided that what I’d like to do is list some of the ways in which I feel I’ve been really lucky in life. Richard Wiseman’s book suggests that this might make me feel happier, and I am also acutely aware that although I have, at times, felt terribly unlucky about many things (I do not currently have a career, I have never owned a house, I have no children, and so on), I am in fact very lucky in very many ways. Here are half a dozen of them:

1. To start at the beginning. I was born to parents who, although they had not planned to have me when they did, loved me very much and took great care of me throughout my childhood. I was always warm, clothed, well-cared-for, educated, and loved. My family have also, generally, accepted the choices I have made in my life and taken some interest in them.

2. I was also born into a society where I am relatively free to live as I choose. Many people constantly moan about governments, jobs, houses, and lives. However, I feel very lucky that I live in a place where I am free to study, to work, to vote without fear of bombs, to practice any religion I choose (or, in my case, none at all) and to dress pretty much as I wish.

3. I am incredibly lucky that I have never in my life gone really hungry. Yes, I get a bit peckish if I haven’t had enough breakfast, but I have never known real hunger or real poverty. I have also never been without SOMEWHERE to live even though I have never owned property, and throughout my life I’ve had access to clean safe water, basic medical care, and many other such creature comforts.

4. Life has certainly thrown a few trials at me: mental illness, infertility, financial difficulties, and, at one time, an abusive boyfriend, to name a few of them. However, I’ve always been lucky enough to have family and good friends around me to pick up the pieces, by offering either practical help or emotional support.

5. I also count myself lucky in that I can derive huge pleasure from music, intellectual work, reading, art, food, and other such pursuits. I feel lucky both that most of the time I have the mental capacity to enjoy those things (I know what it is like to be without them when I am severely depressed), fully functioning senses with which to enjoy them, and that I live in a world where they are freely available to me.

6. I am very lucky to have a husband who adores me and puts me at the centre of his world. Many people never find such a person, and not for want of trying. As a couple we are also lucky that our parents were all happy about our choices of partner, and that we have not had to cope with either cultural or religious issues within our marriage. Furthermore, when we do encounter difficulties in life, we seem to manage to cope much better as a couple than either of us did before we were together.

So, those are just some of the reasons why I am lucky. All of those pieces of luck were happy accidents, things that I did not “make” for myself. I just got lucky. I’m not saying that life is all about sitting and waiting for happy accidents to happen – I certainly do believe that putting some effort into life can often reap very great rewards and that being able to take advantage of opportunities when they arise is fabulous. However, as I define the word, “luck” is the one thing that cannot be made. To me, luck is the hand that is dealt by life. The bit that can be “made” is the way that hand is played!


  1. Thank you for that very thoughtful post.

    I get really annoyed with people who say "you make your own luck". If you were sailing the Atlantic and your mast broke - you can't change that fact by "making your own luck".

  2. agreed, it's very much about 'playing the hand' that you are dealt and being flexible in how you frame things. It's such a hard strategy to learn though and so easy to feel left behind as others streak ahead. I am very much in favour of constantly reminding myself that in the general span of time that humanity has been around, I am insanely lucky. Enough food, medical care, shelter, and in Australia no war, my teeth intact (no that is something millions of humans have suffered from) no superstitions to scare the bejesus out of me, heaps of books to read, a warm safe bed and someone to share it with, a dog...and the list goes on. If I can't extract some sense of being lucky from that list - then I'm a complete nong. The opposite side to luck is 'deserve', another concept when looking at the broader picture that niggles me. There is no invisible scale of justice. Bad things happen randomly. I had this moment, while watching The Unforgiven, when Gene Hackmen is on the ground with Clint Eastwood pointing a gun in his face, and Hackman says, 'I don't deserve to die, i'm building a house.' and Eastwood growls, 'deserve's got nuthin' to do with it.' Damn it, I love that line!

  3. Arnold Palmer, a brilliant golfer, was at the very top of his game when a young journalist said to him 'You're a very lucky golfer Mr Palmer'. Arnold took a deep breath and said 'Yeah, funny that. The more I practice the luckier I get'.

    True story.

  4. Thanks for your great comments!
    Amro - Precisely sir.
    Phillipa - I was particularly taken with what you said about the concept of 'deserving' something, which I certainly see as analogous to the concept of luck.
    Brennig - Indeed, when I was a schoolteacher, I spent many hours explaining to my students that those who had the best "luck" in their exams were usually those who did the most revision!

  5. A very inspirational post. Made me stop and think about luck and my own life. Thanks.