Misfortune..or not?

Fortune Cookie

Tonight at dinner, during which we enjoyed Chinese take-out, my mom had a fortune cookie with no fortune inside. I quipped that it was “unfortunate” (rim shot…cheesy joke…couldn’t pass it up). Was she “unfortunate” by not having a random prophecy? She did get to enjoy the cookie, after all, even though she didn’t get to enjoy the mystery of reading that little piece of paper.

That tiny, mundane experience got me thinking about the nature of misfortune. Is what we consider “bad luck” truly bad? I had a couple of unrelated experiences this week that could be considered as bad luck. In one case, I got hit with that awful flu that has been threading through my local area. In the other, I was not chosen for an opportunity that I desired. At the time each occurred, I was uncomfortable and disquieted: I did not choose my experience and both events were outside of my control.

So how much stock do we place in control over our own fate? I’m sure if we all had our choice, we would be rich, healthy, thin, and carefree. Or maybe that’s only what I want. The simple fact is that this world doesn’t always allow us to choose our circumstances. In fact, of those four things, our perception of each one is what matters.

  • “Rich” is a relative term. Compared to many people in this world, we Americans are a very rich nation. Even in America, we have variations on what is considered “rich.” Being rich is a state of mind, in my opinion.
  • “Healthy” is more quantifiable, but also perception driven. For some people, having no ailments is what they define as healthy. For me, healthy means that my chronic health conditions are managed and that I have no other ailments. Again, it’s all perspective.
  • “Thin”…that’s a loaded word. As a member of Weight Watchers, I participate in many discussions about weight loss and all the associated lifestyle changes that accompany it. When I was much younger, being thin involved engaging in some bulimic behavior to attain an external standard (no worries– I soon realized the folly in that behavior and stopped). These days, my current 70+ pound weight loss, which has made me thinner that I have been since I was pregnant with my first child, makes me perceive myself as thin.
  • “Carefree” is also relative. It depends on what you choose to care about in your world and how much you associate control over your circumstances with happiness.

In each case, our perception influences our estimation of happiness in our experiences. Very simply:

If you think you are fortunate, then you are.

The converse is also true. So as you look at the circumstances and experiences of your life, try to step back and see if you are truly unfortunate. Or could there be some brilliant aspect– some tiny gleam of gold– among the ashes. I’ll bet there is.


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