3 Questions to Help You Stop Feeling Unlucky

Magical Maeya

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There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse.

“You are so lucky to have a horse to pull the cart for you!” his neighbors told him.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

One day, he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran away.

“Oh no! That is terrible news!” his neighbors cried. “Such bad luck!”

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses.

“How fantastic! You are so lucky,” his neighbors told him.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it threw him to the ground, breaking his leg.

“Oh no!” the neighbors cried. “Such bad luck, all over again!”

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men to fight in the army. The farmer’s son was left behind.

“You are so lucky!” his neighbors cried.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

Most of us can easily see ourselves as the neighbor in this parable. When something happens to us, we feel the immediate need to judge the situation as “lucky” or “unlucky.”

The storyteller in our brain needs to know if something is “good” or “bad” so we know how to react to it and more importantly, how to feel about it.

The problem with this is that you are always riding a roller coaster of emotions that you have no control over. You will feel completely overwhelmed all the time by the things that seem to keep happening to you.

Are you one of those people creating this suffering for yourself?

If you have found yourself easily upset by small events recently (the supermarket running out of your favorite snack), or feeling incredibly unlucky (something bad happens to you literally every day), or feeling triggered by someone else’s good fortune (it seems that good things never happen to you) — then you are probably like the neighbor in the parable.

The question is — how can you become more like the wise farmer?

Ask Yourself These 3 Questions

The entire premise of the parable is that our judgment of an event creates the accompanying emotion.

So, to not have our happiness or suffering be completely controlled by external events, we need to learn to think differently about how we label them.

Here are three questions to help you reframe your situation:

1. Can you think of events in your life that seemed incredibly unlucky at the time but later turned out to be positive?

Let me help you out with some examples:

  • A devastating breakup that turned out to be a good thing when you later found the love of your life.
  • Getting laid off which finally allowed you to turn your passion project into a full-time profession.
  • Having a mental breakdown which finally forced you to learn coping mechanisms and deal with your trauma.
  • Developing a disease which kickstarted your journey into wellness and helped you build an empire (think Dave Asprey of Bulletproof Coffee fame).

2. Think of something in your life that feels unlucky now. Can you think of any future outcome (no matter how ludicrous) in which this unlucky thing could be positive?

In biology, there is a phrase known as eustress. The prefix “eu” is derived from the Greek word meaning “good” and the word translates to “good stress.”

The point is this — almost all significant growth in our lives, whether it is building muscles, becoming more emotionally resilient, or developing a better immune system, must be precipitated with a period of stress. The outcome of that stress — whether it builds you up or breaks you down — is entirely up to you. If you cannot imagine a positive external outcome from your current suffering, at least know that any event you experience can be a catalyst to internal personal growth.

3. Think of the events in both points 1 and 2 — did/will any of it matter in 5 years?

Eight years ago, I was a rising star in my company. I was tasked to run increasingly complex projects that were at the boundary of my experience level. One day, one of the large projects I was running went south and we nearly got fired by an important client. To make matters worse, this project was a high profile endeavor that was prominently featured in the news. At the time, I was convinced that the failure was entirely mine and that it would forever tarnish everything I had worked so hard for to that point.

I was wrong.

We think people think about us more than they actually do. Were there repercussions? Sure. Was it as bad as I thought it would be? Definite not. In fact, the client cared more about how we responded to our failure far more than the fact that we actually failed. That project launched a whole new trajectory for my career and today, my main role is to fix problem projects.

Whether it’s a relationship heartbreak or a career setback, most negative things will seem irrelevant in 5 years. When I look back now, I can honestly say that the event was a blessing. Learning to confront a difficult situation in the real world gave me the confidence to deal with far worse problems in the future. It was a lesson no MBA could ever teach me.

But would I say it was lucky or unlucky? I would say it doesn’t matter what I label it — then or now. The event that I thought would define my career seems insignificant in the grand scheme of everything else I have experienced in the last 5 years.

The Takeaway

The real lesson that the parable teaches us is that judging an event as a “good” or “bad” thing has no value.

All it does is create suffering for us in that moment. Yes, even the belief that something is “lucky” creates suffering — because it sets expectations of future outcomes.

A study of 22 lottery winners found that they were not significantly happier after winning the lottery and that they derived less pleasure from mundane, everyday activities than they did before winning.

Daniel Gilbert, the best-selling author of Stumbling on Happiness, performed extensive research on people’s ability to predict their emotional states in the future. He came to this conclusion — people are bad at predicting the specific emotion they will experience, as well as its intensity and duration.

Basically, however strongly we may feel about it today, it is likely that we are wrong about how we will feel about it in the future.

The best thing we can do whenever something happens to us is to remember the old Persian adage — whether good or bad, this too shall pass.

“To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities.” — Bruce Lee

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