Give Thanks…

11 May
Here’s Your Winning Number
by Alexander Green

Dear Reader,

Imagine walking into a room full of strangers and searching in vain to find some commonality.

You learn that they’re not related, have various educational and vocational backgrounds, represents different age groups, races and creeds, and hale from different parts of the country.

Then you discover something odd. Everyone in the room is a lottery winner. Would that not be an astonishing coincidence?

Of course it would. Yet you and everyone you know have already beaten longer odds than any Powerball winner. You just may not realize it. Yet.

For example, when you consider your good fortune, you probably tell yourself something like, “I have decent health, a loving family, good friends, a nice home and plenty of stuff.”

Yet that hardly scratches the surface. Yes, you’ve had your share of setbacks, too. We all must deal from time to time with marital discord, family issues, money problems, sickness, heartache, and the death of friends and family members.

Still, the very fact that you’re here at all would defy the odds-makers. In “Unweaving the Rainbow,” Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins puts things in perspective:

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”

Consider how little chance you had of ever arriving at this party. Every one of your forebears was attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Each was able to deliver a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that would result in you.

Consider, too, the other ways you won the birth lottery. Most of human history, for example, was pre-agricultural. For tens of thousands of years, people lived lives that were – in Thomas Hobbes’ famous phrase – “nasty, brutish and short,” battling the elements, hunting and scavenging to survive.

Even 200 years ago, the vast majority of the world’s population experienced the present standard of living of Bangladesh. And, of course, people enjoyed none of the political freedoms we take for granted in the West today: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom from conscription, freedom to choose your leaders, or to pursue your economic self-interest.

Billions still lack these freedoms today, of course. But if you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly not one of them.

I’m not suggesting that modern life is a bowl of cherries. We’re in a tough economic environment, for example. Millions are out of work. Yet most Americans still enjoy a level of comfort, security and material prosperity undreamed of by 99.9% of those who ever lived.

Your ancestors four generations removed would marvel at contemporary life: unlimited food at affordable prices… plagues that killed millions – polio, smallpox, measles, rickets – all but eradicated… the end of backbreaking physical toil for most wage earners… the advent of instantaneous global communication and same-day travel to distant cities… mass home ownership with central heat and air and limitless modern conveniences… senior citizens cared for financially and medically, ending the fear of impoverished old age.

And thanks largely to advances in science and technology, we have enjoyed the greatest human accomplishment of all time – the near doubling of the average lifespan over the last hundred years. (At the beginning of the twentieth century, the average American lived just 42 years.)

So let’s do a bit of summing up. The chances of your ever being born are almost incalculably slim. The odds of arriving in the modern era are also staggering. And billions alive today were born into wrenching poverty in China, India, sub-Saharan Africa, or some miserable failed state.

You could easily be living in a society without modern infrastructure, communications, or even a reliable power supply. You might have no free-market system to incentivize you, no police force to protect you, no court system to enforce contracts, or protect your rights.

Recognize that, whatever your personal circumstances, you have been astoundingly fortunate.

Why is this important to know? One reason is that it puts your life in perspective. Another is that psychologists say it’s almost impossible to feel grateful and unhappy at the same time.

We should all feel immense appreciation for the life that we were given – and make a conscious effort to practice looking at what’s right in our lives rather than what’s missing.

As Cicero noted a couple thousand years ago, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

Carpe Diem,


Sonja’s notes:  Alex Green is a financial advisor who writes about happiness in his free newsletter.  He doesn’t write about finances.  He isn’t selling anything.  If you would like to read more go to   It’s especially nice to pass on to our men friends who don’t like the girly gratitude messages.  

Hugs, Sonja

One Response to “Give Thanks…”

  1. nancy shade May 15, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Very beautiful and very true. A precious gift of life and the opportunity to laugh, love and cry.

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