My son and I just watched an episode of Cosmos and talked a bit about the chances of human existence. Then we considered our own personal existence. Inspired by our discussion, I did a bit of quick math.
The average male produces roughly one hundred thousand sperm per day for fifty years. This comes to a total of 1.85 trillion possible sperm. The average female will produce roughly five hundred eggs in her reproductive lifetime. This means that the chances that a particular egg and a particular sperm shall meet in a couple’s lifetime is 1 out of 912,500,000,000,000 (one in nine hundred and twelve trillion). Your chances of winning the lottery are 312,000,000 (three hundred and twelve million) times better than being conceived.
This does not take into account the chances that your parents should meet in the first place or that they should decide to have sex or have children. This calculation is only based on the likelihood that the sperm and egg that contain your genetic material should meet. Go back one generation and consider the same calculation for your grandparents. Again, this does not factor in the chances that your grandparents should meet. The chances that you should exist in the future on the day that your grandparents decided to have children is something like 1 out of 800,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. (one in eight hundred octillion) For all intents and purposes, the chance that you should exist at all is zero.
Given all of this, it seems to me that it is not an unreasonable practice at all to stop in the midst of all of life’s little and big challenges and express deep awe and gratitude for the incredibly unlikely fact that you exist. And, as it turns out, both gratitude and awe are psychologically and physiologically good for you.
Seriously, just pause here to consider that, in the face of the absolute miracle of conscious existence, each of us is capable of getting bent out of shape because the line at Starbucks is too long.
Look, I know that many of us face challenges much much greater than a wait for coffee. I know that there is significant injustice, oppression, and suffering in the world that needs to be addressed.
The practice of gratitude and awe for existence doesn’t make the unwanted or difficult stuff go away, but it can help put it in perspective. It can help us be more resilient in the face of it all. And it can connect us to the resources we need to address challenge productively rather than reactively and resentfully.
The good life does not result from getting rid of all discomfort – that is not possible if you are human. The good life comes from embracing the reality that life can be miraculous and uncomfortable at the same time.