Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The psychology of being lucky

A couple of weeks I suffered a pretty nasty electric shock (I'll save the gory details) and have since been told, by every medical professional I’ve seen, every time I’ve seen them, that I’m very lucky. Lucky to not have done more damage, lucky to be here.

And it got me thinking about how you, or I, feel when we’re told that we’re lucky. More often than not it’s meant in a positive way: that we should be thankful, appreciative – that whatever the current situation, it’s better than the alternative.

Lucky’ is defined as having good luck or good fortune; producing a good result by chance. It would therefore seem that being told that you’re lucky would be an optimistic thing, a good result. But I’m not sure that I feel that. Being told that I’m lucky triggers feelings of anxiety; it doesn’t make me think that I’m particularly fortunate, but reminds me of the alternative (one that it hadn’t previously occurred to me was a possibility). It makes me scared because I am conscious that my good luck isn’t something I have control over, and the potential for bad luck suddenly seems almost as real.

So does the concept of luck ever really make one feel fortunate? Or is it a constant reminder of bad luck?

You’re lucky to have won that/achieved that’ – does that simply mean that you shouldn’t have been successful under neutral circumstances? Should you feel a sense of accomplishment or is your achievement a result of forces outside your control?

You’re lucky to have got away with that’ – does that just mean that if I was in a bad mood, I wouldn’t have reacted in the same way? That doesn’t diminish the fact that I’m displeased about what you’ve done. There are still negative implications, even if they’re not acted upon.

'You're lucky to have your friends/family/partner' - is that luck? Maybe your family are. But I don't think your friends are. You make your friends; you have friends by being a friend. You're lucky to have met certain people, but sustaining a relationship with these people isn't just a matter of chance, it's commitment and it's effort. 

You’re lucky to be alive’ – you diced with death, and that’s still scary.

This makes me think that it’s never an especially good thing to be told that you’re lucky. It doesn’t mean that you’re deservedly successful, people aren’t still annoyed about what you’ve said or done, or that the risk of your action (or accident) wasn’t still a terrifying prospect. I’d always rather be lucky than unlucky, of course (even if that does mean having a horrid, scabby finger and a very sore back) – but I don’t want to be told it. Every day for the last 2 weeks. Maybe I am lucky. But please don’t remind me. I don’t want to think about being unlucky. 

P.S. this doesn't mean that I'm not very thankful to all the doctors/nurses (shout out to my fav nurse Mary)/physiotherapists that have looked after me very well (before or after telling me that I'm lucky...)


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