Pier, Frederiksted, St. Croix, Virgin Islands (2021)
In his little philosophical book on the Art of the Good Life, Dobeli addresses an often forgotten reality: the fact that much of what we are in life doesn’t even depend on our own efforts. Indeed, there is such a thing as luck in life. Ancient Romans called it “Fortune”, and I tend to like that denomination much better than “luck”. A lot of our destiny has already been outlined by forces beyond our control. Dobeli mentions, for example, “the ovarian lottery”. Some of us were born to the right ovaries, meaning, we came into existence enjoying a non-trivial set of privileges, right from the get-go. Some of us were not that lucky.
De-emphasizing our efforts as the prerequisite of our success and happiness may come as a shocker for us westerners living in the 21st century. We have been taught that our destiny is in our own hands. We have been taught that redemption and happiness are the consequences of hard work and developing our smart. We go to school, we go to college, we go to grad school,we work hard, we go to church every Sunday, we get serious with someone and marry him. Our lives are modeled to the lives of heroes and other mythological and biblical characters. Such high standards! That’s what we do, right? But is that the sure route to a happy-ever-after destiny? The answer is an unequivocal “no”.
I believe Dobeli’s point is that we have lost our focus. We think of the wrong things in our contemporary pursuit of happiness. And to bring us back into focus, no one better than the Stoic philosophers themselves, many of whom-by the way- happened to live in the Ancient Roman Empire. These guys understood that there are two types of life situations: those over which we have control and those over which we have no control. Understanding which one is which is fundamental to cultivate peace of mind (call it happiness, if you will). Our efforts should concentrate only on what is under our control. Everything else is not worth our energy and will not move us any closer to Nirvana. The ovarian lottery happens to be one of those “beyond our power” things. You don’t decide what mother or father you have or what family you are born into, or which is your home country. These things just happen to you. The ovarian lottery is in no uncertain terms a big deal and it will determine a lot of our destinies. I bet knowing this little bit will lift a huge burden off your shoulders. And yet, even as the ovarian lottery determines a lot, it is still not the whole story. The rest is, indeed, up to us *