Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Cheshire Parlour: a sort of curated dinner party that brings together 10 strangers to discuss a monthly theme. It’s hosted by my lovely friend Monica McCarthy in the beautiful Food52 headquarters, and it was a wonderful evening of good people, good food and good conversation.
Our conversation theme was fortune. Fortune has two definitions: “chance or luck as an external, arbitrary force affecting human affairs” OR “a large amount of money or assets.” It’s funny how often we act like those two things are the same thing, or like they’re related: that having a lot of money makes you fortunate or that having good fortune inevitably leads to monetary wealth.
We discussed many quotes over the course of the evening: fortune favors the bold, too few rejoice over a friend’s good fortune, fortune brings in some boats that are not steered. I agree that the greater the risk, the greater the reward and that too often, we’re unable to celebrate a friend’s success as if it were our own. But I kept getting hung up on the definition of fortune, of whether it should be equated with finances or happiness.
Mimi used to tell me that it’s only people with money who will tell you that money doesn’t buy happiness. She would say that poor people will tell you that they’d be a heck of a lot happier with a warm bed, a good meal, the joy of not having to worry how to pay the bills.
And a hippie in Vietnam once told me that he’s happy as long as he’s healthy and rich as long as he has no debt. In many ways, that’s the sort of fortune I’d like to have: to be healthy and to not owe anyone anything, but also to recognize how fortunate that is and to be grateful for it. Gratitude is one of those little mental switches that can make or break a feeling of good fortune: you can be thankful for all that you have, or unhappy with all that you don’t have.
I don’t think that having a lot of money is the be-all, end-all to problems: if that was the case, I would have switched from a creative career into finance a long time ago. And yet I often let myself slip into envy of my friends with higher salaries, better benefits, nicer apartments. But is there a way to slap a value on the experiences I’ve had abroad, a monetary trade for the vacations I take, a dollar amount that would be worth all of those nights I don’t stay late at the office? Impossible.
There’s a reason why being fortunate isn’t the same thing as having a fortune. To me, fortune is having enough and knowing that it’s enough. It’s having some money in the bank, and trusting that you can always make more. It’s not only the opportunity to travel, but also having a place to call home. It’s having people to love and people who love you.
How do you define good fortune? How do you define being fortunate?