Six Letters To Help You Get The Most Out Of Life

A simple way to shift your focus

Boy enjoying life
Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

In the final chapter of his book, ‘Wait What?: And Life’s Other Essential Questions’ author James E. Ryan reflects on an important question about life:

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

The “even so” at the end of the question, to me, perfectly captures the reality that pain and disappointment are inevitably a part of a full life, but also the hope that life, even so, offers the possibility of joy and contentment.”

As a maths tutor, I was recently working on a maths question about scaling up a pancake recipe with a Year 5 student. It was a particularly arduous problem involving the conversion of mixed numbers into improper fractions and other tasks that seem painfully unnecessary to any self-respecting child. When we had completed part of it, I warily explained:

“Olivia, so far, we’ve just done the calculations for the butter. We still need to work on the flour!”

She looked genuinely shocked that anyone would design such a question for a Friday night.

Then she gathered herself together and said:

“Well, butter is better than nothing. If there’s anything I’ve learnt in my life, it’s that, if you have something, it’s better to hold onto that than to have nothing.”

She’s nine.

She’d much rather be eating pancakes than solving problems about them.

Yet she knows that focusing on what she has managed to do feels a lot better than complaining about everything else.

The phrase even so is a powerful one to carry around.

When you don’t get the job you really, really wanted, even so reminds that you took a chance on something you cared about. That’s the kind of initiative that sooner or later is bound to pay off.

When you’re arguing with a loved one, you can choose to think about all the other times you’ve clashed with seemingly no resolution in sight. Consider how you, even so, you got through every one of those arguments.

When you come to what seems like a dead end in the midst of a project, acknowledge the apparent hopelessness of the situation. Then ask yourself and others if even so, there’s a possibility you haven’t considered yet or a way to completely break the rules.

At the end of a day where everything has gone awry, you can decide that even so, you will take one small action to turn things around; a walk, a call to a friend, a hot shower with your favourite playlist.

Think of someone you admire. A political leader who goes against the grain to stand by their values (go Jacinta Ardern!). Your uncle, who always brings warmth and cheer to any gathering. The elderly neighbour who goes for a walk every day in spite of her arthritis. These people don’t deny that hardship exists. They recognise it and simply decide it won’t stand in their way. They trust in their capacity to move through it, find a way around it or even embrace it. At their best, they are grateful for the meaning they find within the challenges they face.

We can become more like these individuals by making even so something of a mantra.

We can acknowledge that the aches and struggles we all go through make other things, like unexpected footpath flowers, a hug from someone we love or the kindness shown by a stranger even more poignant and remarkably more beautiful.

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