Destiny, Free Will, Or The Luck O’ The Irish?


appy St.Patrick’s Day!  

Today, around the world, millions of Irish citizens and decedents (and basically anyone looking for a party) celebrate St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. The day usually involves shamrocks, or 4-leaf clovers, wearing the colour green, and usually some degree of drinking and debauchery. The drinking part actually has some historical significance, as the Catholic Church would lift the Lenten restrictions on drinking alcohol solely for the celebration of St. Patrick ’s Day – but it was right back to the fast the day after. I suppose it would be fair to say that people took full advantage of this moment of leniency right in the middle of the 40 days of Lent, and even today, most people associate March 17th with drinking a pint of green beer.

A small piece of St. Patrick’s Day and Irish culture that I want to focus on for a minute is luck. Most people have heard of the luck that supposedly comes with finding a 4-leaf clover, or reference to ‘the luck of the Irish’.  Ironically, the saying actually refers to the bad luck of the Irish people, and all of the suffering that they have endured over the years.  But enough with the social studies lesson!  Let’s talk about luck.

The Oxford Dictionary defines luck as “the success or failure apparently brought on by chance rather than one’s own actions”. And luck is very much linked to the concepts of fate or destiny, which are based on the belief that the circumstances of our lives (or at least some of them) are out of our control, or are pre-determined.

What do you think about this?  Do we have control over our future?  How does free will fit into destiny?  Or does it?  How much effort should we put into our dreams, if our path may already be decided for us?

This kind of discussion occurs often in my sessions with clients. When we are faced with mental health challenges, or any sort of health condition, a common tendency is to question why we ended up with an illness, and wonder why some people seem to avoid these issues; why some people seem luckier than others. I think this type of reflection is helpful, and can be very therapeutic – it challenges us to consider and even question the depths of our own individual power and agency, and also to evaluate how much faith we have in an external locus of control, such as destiny, fate, God, or whatever we choose to believe. I think many people find comfort in believing that both exist simultaneously; that to a degree, there is a larger force guiding the events of our life, but that we also have to take responsibility for making things happen for ourselves.  The balancing point between the two is probably different for everyone, and changes at different points throughout our lives.

Ok, so what does thinking about and discussing our beliefs around destiny, luck, and internal power and control have to do with healing?  Well, mental health challenges can be scary, dark, and isolating, making us feel like living a full and happy life is impossible, or at least extremely difficult. I like to think that if we can come to an awareness of how powerful we can truly be in shaping our own future, and/or how much faith we have in something external, we can learn to let go a little, to relax, to breathe. When we do this, we gain a whole new perspective; one that can be incredibly enlightening, empowering, and in turn, healing.


Written by Erin McGuinty, MSW RSW, Clinical Therapist at The Spark Institute

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