We work hard. We navigate the challenges of parenting, work, relationships, and everything else. We do our best to put forth effort to improve our lives. But so much of what our lives look like is due to pure fortune, good or bad.
There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Besides the myriad unseen ways we’re helped by others’ efforts, we’ve all had unearned advantages that have propelled us forward. By appreciating the many ways we have been lucky, we can increase our compassion and reduce our judgment of others.
Our advantages can range from gifts of birth to simply being in the right place at the right time. Some of us were able to get a college education back in the day without incurring huge debt. Many of us were born into families who had enough food every day. We got an encouraging word or a gift at just the right time. Those of us born with lighter skin have reaped all the subtle benefits of having the deck stacked our way, without even recognizing it. Living in this beautiful, free country has allowed us to say, do, and be so much more than we could in a more repressive society.
Luck can also be what didn’t happen to us. For example, most of us have not had our house burn to the ground, as some did in the Taylor Bridge Fire and the recent infernos in California. Consider what that means: We did not have to rebuild from the bottom up and we do not have nightmare memories of our material lives going up in flames. While having insurance is critically important, anyone who has lost even a few insured belongings knows the incredible amount of time and hassle involved in replacing those things. Not to mention the toll of losing irreplaceable items like grandma’s quilt or old photos. Just think – we didn’t have to go through that; our lives have not been pushed back to that extent.
Why celebrate something over which we have no control? When we acknowledge that we have received advantages that we have not earned, it helps us have compassion for those who, through no fault of their own, have had a more difficult time. It’s human nature to give ourselves perhaps more personal credit for how our lives have turned out. Likewise, we often blame others for things over which they actually had no control – it was just their bad luck. Recognizing our good fortune fosters humility and helps us dodge smugness, as we realize how much we’ve gotten “for free”.
We can certainly make bad choices that have large ongoing impacts. Perhaps we stupidly start drinking alcohol when we’re young. But if we’re one of the people who carry the genetic susceptibility for alcoholism, that mistake can be life-changing. Our genetics are outside our control, as are the genetics of everyone else. Does it help anyone to judge the difficult lives of others or to judge ourselves against those who had different good luck than we did?
Of course, we can’t keep this awareness in mind all the time, nor can we make a complete list all of our good fortune. But every once in a while, it’s good to remember our unearned blessings.
Let’s celebrate all that is right in our lives. Let’s be grateful that we are alive in this world. Let’s remember all the good luck that has gotten us where we are. If we reach out, perhaps we can be part of the good luck of others.