The Philosophy of Luck


“Luck is what happens when preparation meats opportunity.” ~Seneca


Fate. Chance. Destiny. The vicissitudes of life. Call it what you will, luck favors the disciplined mind.


Our luck is unknown. Our fate is indefinite and always on the horizon. There are many potential pitfalls between our comfort zone and that horizon. A lot could go wrong. But, then again, a lot could go right.


What will our destiny be? Sometimes not even a positive disposition (the glass is half-full as opposed to half-empty) can help us through this tangled web of chance and happenstance. Sometimes the only way to see the forest for the trees is to detach ourselves from both.


That’s where a disciplined mind comes in. The undisciplined mind looks at fate like a beast it should fear. The disciplined mind looks at fate like a beast it must ride into fearlessness.


Only a disciplined mind has the wherewithal to detach itself from the cycle of its own fate long enough to realize that luck is, whether perceived as good or bad, ridable. Or, put more succinctly, that the journey is the thing worth riding into the sunset of our destiny.


The destination is unknown, be it lucky or not. The energy that carries us there is luck, chance, fate, destiny. So, allowing the journey to be the thing is really just adaptation and a matter of luck management.



Radical gratitude:

“A man of genius is unbearable, unless he possesses at least two things besides: gratitude and integrity.” ~Nietzsche


When we’re feeling unlucky it’s good to remind ourselves that when it comes down to it, most of us are lucky. We’re lucky to have our health. We’re lucky to have potable water, edible food, housing, AC, the internet. Even if we didn’t have these things, we’d still be lucky to be alive, and at least we'd have a chance to make our life better.


The grass is only greener on the other side if we stop watering our own. Luck is a matter of perspective. When we use luck as a barometer to compare and contrast, we lose Measurement itself, we lose sight of the underlying essence. Gratitude is a way to regain perspective. It’s a way to water our own grass. In the crashing plane of life, gratitude is placing the oxygen mask on ourselves first.


The heart of good luck is radical gratitude. If we can look at all the things that we usually take for granted, then our attitude toward our current spate of “bad luck” will probably change.


Radical gratitude is a surrender to health and a recognition that things could always be worse. We could have been swallowed whole by our demons. We could have been utterly crushed by circumstance. We could have been a quadriplegic, or a schizophrenic, or stillborn.


Radical gratitude is a tipping of the hat to the good luck hidden within the bad. It’s pulling up our stoic bootstraps and having the audacity to, as Nietzsche said, “Toss roses into the abyss and say: ‘Here are my thanks to the monsters for not knowing how to swallow me alive.’”


Being grateful for the little things is an important steppingstone toward handling the big things, like forgiveness. Thus, the baby steps of gratefulness can lead to the leap of courage it takes to forgive.


Seen through the lens of radical gratitude, bad luck is put on blast by our ability to see the silver lining. We declare a sacred space for forgiveness. We free ourselves to forgive fate for not turning out the way we had hoped. We free ourselves to forgive ourselves our inability to do what it took to create the destiny we had hoped for. We free ourselves to give up all hope for a better past, and thereby open the door for future possibility.



Luck management:

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” ~Cormac McCarthy


Luck management is going rogue on the concept of luck. It’s transcending the paradigm and seeing the big picture. Sure, whatever tragedy you’re going through may seem like bad luck in the small picture (short run) but blow it up into a big picture perspective (long run), and sprinkle in a little hindsight, and suddenly you’ll see how your so-called bad luck could easily have led to so-called good luck.


Luck is an infinite spectrum unfathomable to the human mind. The “bad luck” of a minor car crash could have saved you from the worse “luck” of a deadly car crash farther down the road. Similarly, the “good luck” of one scenario could have prevented you from experiencing the “better luck” of another.


Life is less about good or bad luck and more about making the best of either. Because both will happen over a lifetime. Most of which you will have no control over. But you will have control over how you react to it all. Attitude is paramount. Having gratitude for our good luck will help us weather the bad. Being steadfast through our bad luck will help us appreciate the good.


As James A. Garfield said, “A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.”


Indeed. Pluck and aplomb are the heart of luck management. And a good sense of humor is the soul. With these three powers you’ll be able to flip Luck itself on its head. You’ll be more capable of gratitude. You’ll learn to embrace hardship as a student embraces a wise elder. You’ll be able to harvest the upside from the downside like mining diamonds in the rough.


At the end of the day, your ability to discover the upside in the downside will make you more adaptable to the vicissitudes of life. It will make you more flexible regarding possibility, probability, mortality, and impermanence. Like a flower breaking through concrete, your ability to find glory in sadness, sweetness in madness, and pleasure in pain, will lead to a flourishing despite all odds. In hindsight, luck (good or bad) was only ever a stopgap.



Image source:

Luna 1 by Hilda Palafox


About the Author:

Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.


This article (The Philosophy of Luck) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.