In the middle of a busy day, or simply in the middle of a busy series of thoughts, if you remember to stop and take a deep, calming breath, are you lucky? If you can focus exclusively on one inhale and one exhale, tuning out the rest of the world for that particular moment, you’ve gained an advantage. There’s a benefit of relaxation and awareness that’s now yours. And if you weren’t consciously planning to take the breath – but rather the idea of it spontaneously emerged in mind – then there’s a sense in which this opportunity was given to you, rather than being something you created. So yes, there’s reason to consider yourself lucky: you are the beneficiary of an unanticipated gift.
But whether this fact is wholesome or not, our perceptions of luck often depend on exclusivity and scarcity. Luck is comparative – we feel lucky in comparison to other people. We feel lucky when we happen upon some valuable object or opportunity that most people don’t have. If you find a twenty-dollar bill on the street you’ll probably feel lucky, based on the assumption that you’re the only person who found anything there. Everyone else saw cigarette butts and bubblegum wads when they looked down at the concrete sidewalk, but the lone twenty saved itself for you! But if you later learn that most of the other pedestrians, walking that same street around the same time as you, had each found a hundred-dollar bill, then you’d start to feel unlucky. What a shame that you found a measly twenty! What did you do to deserve this bad luck?
Consider the device that’s probably in your pocket right now, a “smart phone” that would have appeared to any observer in the 1960s as an unimaginably powerful and miraculous supercomputer. The Beatles didn’t have supercomputers like the one you have. World leaders with nuclear codes didn’t have supercomputers like the one you have. Are you lucky to have that supercomputer now? Maybe, sort of, but the fact that everyone you know also has one makes it less notable, less worthy of an ecstatic feeling.
If that’s how luck tends to be seen – if a good thing is only truly “lucky” if it’s not widely possessed by the people in your orbit – what does that mean for the deep breath you suddenly remembered to take? Does remembering to take it still make you lucky?
There’s a case to be made that yes, it still does.
If you take a deep breath right now, you’ve joined a small group of people taking deep breaths across the world at this same fleeting but irrevocable instant in human history, a group that’s likely smaller than one percent of the world population.
Really, how many people are taking a deep, conscious, calming breath at any particular moment? Look around you, how many do you see? The ones who are doing it, across the world, are either meditating, or doing yoga, or simply engaging in a personal mindfulness practice — but that’s a vanishingly small group. Probably a third of the world population is asleep at any given time, so their breaths are not conscious and intentional. But most of the two-thirds of people who are currently awake are probably just consumed with their lives. They get up, go to work, stay caught up in work, go home, get caught up in what’s going on at home, then go to sleep. Some people have time to play — lucky them — but they’re caught up in play. In either case, they’re unaware of their breathing. Indeed, some of them have never been aware of it, never learned to take a deep breath at all.
Pick a person you know — a typical person, an “average” person. What’s the chance that right now, at this very moment, they’re practicing breath awareness? Not that high, right? So if you’re doing it right now, you’re probably a one-percenter. You’re in the small minority of people experiencing the benefit that comes from a deep, slow, calm, conscious breath. You’re lucky. You’re part of the privileged few. Embrace it. Be a one-percenter. More often!