You are much luckier than you think
Reading this article will forever change your life, giving you a new perspective and reason to be happy and feel blessed. Gratitude can increase happiness, so this article will make you happier now and for the rest of your life. Even if you're an atheist, you should thank God for this.
“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.”
— Eric Hoffer
Imagine that you won hundreds of millions of dollars in a multi-state lottery. Then you won it again, not just once but thousands of times in a row. Then someone fell madly in love with you, not your money, who was the most attractive person in the world and the nicest, most considerate, charming, cheerful, intelligent, interesting, affectionate, honest, loyal, and best kisser—ever.
Then you won the Nobel Prize—all of them, year after year.
Then you took up golf and always hit a hole-in-one.
Then you set a world record in every sport, were elected President of the United States, created world peace, solved homelessness and global warming, and were so popular that even your opponent's wife and children voted for you.
You'd feel very fortunate, wouldn't you? You would be incredibly lucky.
Is that how lucky you are? Not even close; you are incomprehensibly more lucky than that. You are millions and billions and trillions of times more lucky.
Yes, really. How do I know? Statistical probability. Flip a coin: heads or tails, 50-50 odds, easy to understand, right? When chromosomes recombine in the process of meiosis, the chance of your DNA forming — thus, the chance of you existing — is so close to zero it is an absolute wonder that you exist. A professor said that “any couple could have … 70 trillion different possible children.” Even if your parents had billions of children, what is the chance of them creating you? Not zero, but very close to it.
And what was the chance of them finding one another and marrying? Very slim. And what was the chance of them even existing? Very close to zero. To calculate the probability of you even having a 1 in 70 trillion chance of life, start multiplying the almost zero chance of each of your many ancestors living and surviving long enough to reproduce, without doctors, hospitals, paramedics, antibiotics, flu shots, police, grocery stores, and cozy homes.
With each generation, the chance of your genes surviving was vanishingly small: many trillions of times more likely to not occur than occur.
Now consider the countless generations that existed since the dawn of life, with each generation diluting your chance of life from almost zero to almost zero times that: multiplying very, very tiny numbers by very, very tiny numbers gives you numbers that are very, very, very, very tiny: numbers that make winning every lottery seem like a sure bet in comparison. And yet you exist; you beat all those odds. Your life is a miracle beyond comprehension.
But for you to live, there had to be an Earth situated at just the right distance from a star of just the right size: our Sun. Peer into the night sky and you'll see thousands of stars, but there are many more; estimates of the number of stars in the universe range from 70 sextillion (70,000 million million million) to much more: 1024, or a one followed by 24 zeros—a number so big that Einstein couldn't fully wrap his mind around it. Even the low estimate is “about 10 times as many stars as grains of sand on all the world's beaches and deserts.”
And guess what? We've yet to detect signs of life anywhere except here on Earth.
But without a number of meteorite impacts at just the right time and place, the history of the Earth would be radically different. Almost certainly, humans wouldn't be here, and even if they were, you and I certainly would not be. You likely also owe your existence to “nickel-eating bacteria [that] may have worsened the world's worst mass die-off,” setting the stage for other life to take its place. That culminated in humans—and you.
From an H2 program, The Universe:
Laura Danly, Ph.D., Griffith Observatory: “Everything in the Universe is determined by the fundamental forces of nature. The strength of those forces are characterized by numbers called fundamental constants that are so sensitive that if they changed by just a little bit, the Universe as we know it wouldn't be here. For example, if the rate of expansion of the Universe right after the Big Bang had changed by one part in a quintillion—a quintillion is one with 18 zeros after it—the Universe would continue to expand, or collapse back on itself, and none of this would be possible.”
To illustrate how big one quintillion is, she said there are about one quintillion grains of sand on Earth. Imagine changing that total by just one grain—an infinitesimal change, but one no greater in extent than the one Dr. Danly cited that made life possible.
I was never one to have an inherent, unquestioning belief in God, but scientific facts like this should make you wonder. Was it really just luck that led to the creation of the Universe and Earth hospitable to life? Criminal courts haven't quantitated what “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” means, but considering how often judges and juries are wrong, it is safe to assume they don't demand one-in-a-million odds. But consider this: One-in-a-million is a trillion (1000 billion, or a million million) times more probable than one-in-a-quintillion!
That fascinating program also discussed how slightly nonuniform distribution of matter allowed stars to form (without stars, there would be no humans; we're primarily made of stardust).
However, it wasn't only earth-shattering events that changed history; mosquito bites, breezes, falling branches, and countless trillions of seemingly inconsequential events shaped history, affecting who lives and who dies—and when they die, all of their possible descendants instantly lose their chance of living.
A temperature difference of less than one degree may change if rain changes to slippery ice that leads to an accident that kills you. Or you may miss a traffic light by one second and, because of it, be in the wrong place at just the right time minutes later when a thug drops a bowling ball from a freeway overpass that shatters your skull, spraying your brains onto your wife and daughter.
That really happened to an ophthalmologist in Detroit returning home after taking his family to dinner in Windsor. Perhaps a request from another patron delayed his server by a minute—long enough to put him in the crosshairs instead of some other driver. Or perhaps he was delayed leaving his office that day by squeezing in a patient with a flake of rust in his eye that fell in when he worked on his muffler; perhaps the flake would have missed his eye if his head moved by a fraction of an inch. No eye foreign body, no extra appointment that day, no delay just long enough to be the unlucky one.
Events like this happen all the time. Trivial changes make a world of difference in who lives and who dies. If we could rewind Earth's history 100,000 years, what is the chance that all the random events that led to you would be repeated? Zero, for all practical purposes. That is also true if only the last century were replayed. Would replaying the last century a hundred trillion times give you a good shot at life? Nope.
Researchers believe that human intelligence originated because of “a simple invertebrate animal living in the sea 500 million years ago experienced a 'genetic accident', which resulted in extra copies of these genes being made.” What if that genetic accident occurred in an animal eaten before it could pass on its genes, like most sea invertebrates? We wouldn't be here. Doubt me? Ask any mermaid you happen to see.
Humans have an interesting yardstick for happiness: how fortunate they are in comparison with others. Do they have more money? A nicer home? Better car, job, and health? Partners who are kinder and more attractive? More luck playing the lottery?
These comparisons are trivial because we're all lottery winners; we won the lottery of life.
Anything alive is miraculously lucky, but you could have been a mosquito fried in a bug zapper or an earthworm squashed by a tire, with never any friends, happy memories, or loved ones to cherish your memory when you're gone. You're alive, you're human, and even if you are unemployed and hungry, you are trillions and trillions (and trillions!) of times more fortunate than all of the people who could have existed, but never did, and never will. So make every day a Thanksgiving day. You have much to be thankful for; you have life.
Still not convinced how lucky you are? Perhaps you let yourself be happy only to the extent your luck exceeds that of other ultimate lottery winners. But luck can never be adequately assessed until it's all over.
Consider Lauren Bump. At age 24, her resplendent beauty would make many Hollywood stars jealous. She was educated, smart, and dreamed of being a doctor before deciding to instead become a Physician Assistant. Not long before she was scheduled to graduate, she went jogging and was stabbed to death—surely a more agonizing way to die than being clubbed over the head, as happened to my father. The roommate of Lauren's alleged killer, Christian Ivan Bautista, said he bragged, “I stuck that (expletive). I cut her up real nice.”
Or consider Eve Carson. 22 years old, gorgeous, student body president at the University of North Carolina, and a recipient of the Morehead-Cain Scholarship, but killed by a shotgun blast to the head.
Or consider 7th Heaven actress Sarah Goldberg, who died at age 40.
Or consider this List of models who died during their careers in the 21st century. They had what our dysfunctional world values most — beautiful bodies — yet they had too little of what we all value most: life.
Or consider 30 child actors who died young.
Or consider Elvis Presley, a legend in his own time and the King of Rock and Roll, who died alone, ignominiously in his bathroom, on a very unglamorous throne, possibly straining to pass stool because of drug-induced constipation.
Or consider Michael Jackson: once supremely talented, successful, famous, rich, and handsome, he first destroyed his looks before contributing to his premature death. The pinnacle of his luck eclipsed anything most people will ever know, yet who would trade places with him now? No one.
And your reason? Because you're much luckier than he was. He's not alive, but you are, so enjoy it, and don't let problems get you down, for the only ones who have them are those still living.
Oh, one more thing: If you're depressed about getting older, remember this: Aging beats the alternative. And never waste a minute worrying about your chronological age; it's your biological age that ultimately kills you. But you can affect it, so you can live longer if you wish.
Yes, I know: there's always someone luckier than you: someone richer, smarter, or more attractive. But when you consider how incredibly lucky you are to be alive, that makes as much sense as Warren Buffett being depressed because he isn't quite as rich as Bill Gates.
“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”
— Alphonse Karr
Are you homeless?
- Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe
Amazon.com editorial excerpt: “Paleontologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee think all of us should feel lucky. Their rare Earth hypothesis predicts that while simple, microbial life will be very widespread in the universe, complex animal or plant life will be extremely rare.”
- T. Boone Pickens: Class of 2013: Here's What I'd Give Up to be You
Comment: One of the best articles ever written.
- Meteorite 'changed Earth's history'
- New Theories Link Asteroid Impacts to Major Changes in Earth's History
- Are Asteroids History's Greatest Killers?
- Meteorites, Impacts, and Mass Extinction
- Impact-caused extinction events
- Huge Asteroid Is Still the Central Villain in Dinosaurs’ Extinction
- Alien Life May Be Rare Across the Universe
Comment: Extensive searches for signs of life on other planets has so far turned up nothing, thus making life on Earth all the more exceptional.
- Origin of Intelligence and Mental Illness Linked to Ancient Genetic Accident based on Synaptic scaffold evolution generated components of vertebrate cognitive complexity
- Memory Strategy May Help Depressed People Remember the Good Times
- Improving Memory for Specific Events Can Alleviate Symptoms of Depression
Comment: IMHO, including specific events such as why everyone alive should be thrilled they were born when almost everyone who could have lived never had the chance. “Almost everyone” = 99.99999999999999999999999999999++++% (BTW, that number is considerably lower than what it really is; the true number would fill a page with many more 9s).
- Alternative Way to Explain Life's Complexity Proposed
Comment: Sure, and pocket calculators evolved from personal computers that evolved from supercomputers.
- Could Life Be Older Than Earth Itself?
- Why does anything exist? Scientists find a bit of the answer
Excerpt: “Everything seems to add up, it is just that it doesn't come to anything near the amount of difference we need to explain the evolution of the universe.”
Comment: So scientists still cannot explain it.
- Can Science Lead to Faith?
- Life On Earth Shockingly Comes from out of This World
- Earth-Bound Asteroids Carried Ever-Evolving, Life-Starting Organic Compounds
- Life-Producing Phosphorus Carried to Earth by Meteorites
- Vitamin B3 might have been made in space, delivered to Earth by meteorites
- Clay May Have Been Birthplace of Life On Earth, New Study Suggests
- Moon and Earth Have Common Water Source
Comment: Do you know what that means?
- “… there were at least 100 billion galaxies in the entire Universe.”
Comment: Where did all that matter and energy come from?
- Earth's water is older than the sun: Likely originated as ices that formed in interstellar space
Comment: Just one of the countless lucky events that led to our Earth.
- The Spliceosome: More Than Meets the Eye
Comment: The chance of that occurring as a result of random mutations (blah, blah, blah) isn't zero, but darn close to it.
I began medical school convinced God didn't exist and the origin of life was just a fortunate chance occurrence, but by the time I graduated in the top 1% of my class (hence I understood virtually everything my professors taught), I thought it was preposterous to think all this complexity spontaneously arose and then evolved into such mind-boggling intricacy we still don't understand half of it. After digging for decades, I learned that biology is enormously more complicated than I assumed after college and medical school. It's easy to understand how evolution proceeds when one or two changes confer an obvious benefit, but not when some change is utterly useless (and potentially harmful) until all of the many pieces of the puzzle miraculously fall into place and everything magically harmonizes with existing systems of physiology, etc.
Then there's another issue: the Earth is more hospitable to life now than billions of years ago when life supposedly arose from chance, yet in all that time, we've never seen de novo generation of new forms of life that would be very conspicuous by being based on different biology. What's in fruit flies and worms is often in you and me, like different computers running very similar operating systems (OSs). Computers can also run entirely different OSs but the fundamental elements of life possess similarity or absolute equivalence strongly suggesting that life arose once, not again and again, as likely would have happened many times as Earth became ever more hospitable to life IF life could indeed arise from chance.
- The Spliceosome: More Than Meets the Eye
- List of people who died in road accidents.
- Education may not improve our life chances of happiness
- Looking for happiness in all the wrong places
- 'Missing' disaster led to all-time worst extinction
Excerpt: “If confirmed, it would mean that life in the Permian period was hit by a double whammy that made the extinction of the dinosaurs look like a tea party.”
- Psychologists discover the simplest way to boost your mood: awe-inspiring experiences
- Being in awe can expand time and enhance well-being
- Volcanic eruptions that changed human history
- Comet impacts may have led to life on Earth -- and perhaps elsewhere
- A Valuable Lesson in Gratitude
- The aliens are silent because they're dead: Life on other planets would probably go extinct soon after its origin, due to runaway heating or cooling on their fledgling planets
- Moon was produced by a head-on collision between Earth and a forming planet
- Do gut microbes shape our evolution?: Researcher proposes that a host's microbiota can steer its evolution in new directions
- Placenta in females, muscle mass in males: Dual heritage of a virus
- Reality guide: Six problems physics can't explain: From the dark energy ripping the cosmos apart to the part consciousness plays in creating reality, quantum physics and cosmology retain many mysteries
Excerpt: “The standard model of particle physics … doesn't fully explain the different strengths of weak, strong and electromagnetic forces, for example, or the masses of the particles it introduces. These quantities have to be measured experimentally and tacked on to the theory. Were any of them to have even marginally different values, the universe would look very different. The Higgs boson's mass, for example, is just about the smallest it can be without the universe's matter becoming unstable.”