Life is filled with blessings, but expect to have disasters once in a while.

The start of the New Lunar Year (4714) will soon be upon us, and many are eagerly seeking forecasts and predictions from “Grand Masters” to find out what the year of the Red Fire Monkey will bring. This is also one of the busiest times for Singapore Pools, as ticket sales dramatically increase with the annual $12 million TOTO Hong Bao Draw. These are entertaining ways that sort of give us a sense of how lucky we are or will be in the coming year. And it’s fun and easy to daydream and fantasize about what you would do with the winnings. But what are your odds of winning?

Examining the Odds of the Lottery

The odds of winning the jackpot in TOTO is actually published on the Singapore Pools website. It’s roughly 1 in 14,000,000 (or 0.0000071%), and yet so many people aim for this goal. Apparently, Singaporean households hold the world record in spending the most on lottery tickets – a whopping $4000 USD per year, according to Shlomo Benartzi). Put another way, the Economist states it as $1000 USD per person per year. In an average lifetime (80 years), that’s more than half a million dollars (compounded annually at 4% interest) spent in wishful thinking.

Examining the Odds of Other Things

Contrast that with the odds of bad life events, such as a divorce, job loss, critical illness, bankruptcy, disability, death, or other disasters or tragedies. These odds, depending on your age, health status, financial status, etc. are far higher than the odds of winning the $12 million Hong Bao Draw (some of these odds can be even as high as 50%), yet so few people plan for such events to occur. Unfortunately, our human brain seems to be wired to think in this lopsided way, outrageously inflating the odds of good things happening (winning money) while discounting the odds of bad things happening (critical illness). But, if we recognise this tendency, we can work towards changing the way we think about luck.

Another Way to Think of the Lottery

The Roman philosopher Seneca once said,

Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity.”

I once lived in a place surrounded by a dense forest. In the hot dry season, forest fires were very common. One time, we were evacuated because of a nearby forest fire. It burned 73 homes in one section of our town. Every home in that section burned to the ground except for one that belonged to an elderly man. Was he lucky? Yes, but only because he was prepared. He had installed sprinklers on his roof. Many people thought he was strange for doing so, but when the opportunity came, he was prepared and his house and all his belongings were saved. He was indeed lucky by Seneca’s definition.

When I was diagnosed with a “rare brain disorder”, to say I was shocked would be a gross understatement. I was, in my mind, “doing everything right”. I was young, happy, and at a healthy BMI of 19. I was eating organic, mostly homemade meals, I exercised almost daily, I practiced yoga and meditation, and I felt I was at my peak mentally, physically and emotionally. It totally blindsided me. I questioned my doctors, asking them how this could happen. Most of them speculated that the disease originated in utero, and some just said “bad luck”.

But is it really bad luck? I’ve come to the realisation that all of us will get some kind of tragedy in our lifetimes. It’s not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” and specifically “what”. These are just facts of life. We should be “investing” in protecting ourselves as best as we can from the devastation that these tragedies bring, rather than “investing” through buying lottery tickets in the hopes of winning the big jackpot.

How I Turned My Luck Around

The investment I made in my relationship with my husband, my health, my financial security, and my sense of self-worth softened the impact of this “bad luck”. And now I see it as me having good luck (according to Seneca), because I was prepared. If I hadn’t prepared, I would be in dire straits. If I was not in optimal and peak health and happiness at the time I was diagnosed, then I might have fallen into a severe depression. Yes, I did fall through a period of adjustment, but because I started at a good place, I did not fall far, and my preparations made it a bit easier to pick myself back up. I also gained valuable insights into my health and my life. And now, I see this as my opportunity to challenge myself even further, to live my life with more gratitude, happiness, and purpose. I am lucky, because I was prepared.

So how “lucky” will you be this year? What steps will you take to prepare yourself for another uncertain year?

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