Reality Check: Come by Chance

A tool that is often suggested to help us be happier and more satisfied is the practice of gratitude. You’ve seen it recommended here and probably elsewhere, too.

It is, indeed, well and good to be grateful, count our blessings, and concentrate on what we have rather than what we don’t have.

When you are feeling down, however, it can be difficult to stir up those grateful feelings, even if you know that you’ll feel better if you do.

Do you remember the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”? In The Virtue of Happiness, Dr. Joel Wade reminds us that our lives would be very different if certain events, people, and circumstances had never happened.

If you’re struggling to be grateful, try looking at your “what if” gifts.

What if a person you love had never been born? What if you hadn’t happened to pick up that career brochure? What if you hadn’t happened to notice that strange lump and take yourself off to the doctor?

What would be different?

Some wonderful things seem to enter our lives completely by chance.

Years ago, an acquaintance happened to mention that a new high-tech company had just won a big contract. I’d never heard of the company, but not long after, I noticed their employment ad. I applied, was hired. That ended up being a particularly gratifying work experience for me.

What was the role of chance? If I hadn’t happened to meet the acquaintance, if he hadn’t happened to mention the company, if I hadn’t bought that newspaper and happened to peruse the employment ads, and so on. So many ifs.

Had those “ifs” not happened, my life would have been different.  If I hadn’t been hired, I would never have met a valued friend. I would never have learned some skills I still use to this day. I never would have appreciated the perspectives, culture, and viewpoints that I first saw there. My life is richer because of that experience.

My focus is usually on what we can control. In that experience, I controlled whether to look for a job opening, whether to apply, how I presented myself, and how I ultimately behaved on the job.

But we don’t control everything in our lives. Some things come by chance.

Perhaps the love of your life came into your life through chance circumstances. All of the ensuing good that flows from that, such as the children you have, the home where you live, the friends that you choose as a couple; all based on that chance encounter.

Chance, of course, does not always bring wonderful things. Being in “the wrong place at the wrong time” happens as easily as being in “the right place at the right time.” Either can have life-long consequences.

If you’re finding it hard to be grateful, you may feel that chance has not favoured you. Perhaps you’ve worked hard, done the right things, and feel you are owed something in return.

In a just, fair and proper world, maybe you are owed. However, in the world we actually live in, it could be helpful to take the perspective of considering the good things that chance has brought.

For example, it’s easy to take for granted that we are in a country with the opportunity to live and work relatively freely. Having a body that works, a functioning mind, the ability to learn and grow; none are trivial gifts. A nurturing family? Another bonus.

You can concentrate on areas where chance has made life more difficult for you, or when it’s brought you joy and benefit. Which is more helpful? That’s where you can exercise your choice.

Are there important events in your life that seem to have come by chance?

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