Saturday, March 17, 2012


Today is St. Patrick's Day. We ate our requisite corned beef and cabbage (we passed on the green beer). Some of us wore green. We wound up bailing on all social invitations and staying home to be together. There's a spring rain/snow/wind storm outside and it was a good day to be home, together, cozy. The holiday got me thinking about Luck.

In some ways I feel so very Lucky. I have nearly all that I need and much of what I want in life. I have a loving family, a beautiful (albeit half-built) home in a stunning location, I have a sound mind and healthy body. So, so much for which I feel grateful.

But, somehow, Lucky doesn't quite capture the full emotion of having what you need and want. Some people use the word Blessed, but that doesn't quite sit right with my own theological views. Fortunate implies more of the profundity of my appreciation for the goodness in my life, but doesn't capture the emotion associated with abundance. It also makes this feeling out to be a one way street of receivership, perhaps bypassing my own hard work and good intentions in the process of filling my overflowing basket of goodness.

On the other hand, this concept of putting out intentions and working hard to create my own Luck smacks of undeniable hubris. I don't really think that those who don't have what I have didn't work hard, or didn't want it enough. There's much of my own station in life that I can credit to nothing more than the whims of fate. But then there's "making the most of the hand you're dealt" and inheritance from the hard work of foresighted ancestors and all that. It's a complicated process, semantically expressing the goodness I experience every day.

I recently read a book called The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain by neuroscientist Tali Sharot. It's a surprisingly engaging book that convincingly argues that humans have evolved to look at the future (and to some degree the past) with rose-colored glasses because it is adaptive. There is a great deal of evidence to support the idea that humans, for the most part, believe that we personally have a bright future ahead, brighter than statistics would suggest. We all think that we will beat the odds and have marriages that will last, upward financial mobility, everlasting good health, and fun forevermore. We know somewhere in our brains that some people, somewhere will get divorced, lose their jobs, and get sick, but we unfailingly see our own futures as unsullied by such tribulation. Sharot theorizes that our bias toward optimism makes us healthier, longer-lived, happier people. It's a fascinating book and I recommend it.

After thinking about the neuroscience of emotions like optimism, hope, positivism, and gratitude in the context of my own experience of those emotions, I'm forming an opinion that a lot of being Lucky is not so much about random circumstance as it is about attentiveness. Let me explain what I mean.

It is not uncommon when reading or hearing the story of a survivor with a harrowing story to hear the survivor claim "The cancer/accident/divorce/job loss was the best thing that ever happened to me!" In these kinds of uplifting stories, the person isn't just putting on a brave face, either. They usually genuinely mean it. They truly feel that this terrible thing that has happened to them is the best thing in their life. Maybe it caused them make a meaningful turn-around, or helped them develop unknown strengths, or set them on an unexpected path they decided was much better than the path they were on before.

Of course, none of us would ever, in advance, guess that cancer or divorce would be the best thing to ever happen to us. We'd never describe someone as Lucky who was facing these tragedies. But that seems to fly in the face of the actual outcome for the brave people who look disaster in the face, smile, and move forward.

This is where attentiveness comes in. I think those people who feel like cancer was a lucky break are deciding to attend to the good in their lives. They are either wired for or have consciously made a decision to attend to the positive. They are optimists. And this is why people in all walks of life, in circumstances meager and wealthy are capable of feeling that beautiful, full-to-the-brim feeling of Luck or Good Fortune or Blessedness or Abundance, even when their circumstances are so varied. The optimists are noticing all that is wonderful and, perhaps, are better off for it.

For me, this blog is about attending to the good in my life. It's about creating a little of the Luck o' the Irish for my 1/16th to 1/8th Irish self. May you find some of that Luck o' the Irish in your life today.

1 comment:

  1. you are such a wonderful writer, dear travis!