In the late 19th century, it was not uncommon to find a corpse who could not be identified. Such was the case for a young woman who was pulled out of the River Seine in Paris, likely a suicide. Her body was labelled ecadavre feminin inconnu (unknown female cadaver) and as was customary at the time, her body was displayed in a chilled room with a glass window at the morgue, in the hopes that some passer-by would recognise her face and identify her.
At some point, a morgue attendant made a death mask of her face – a wax plaster cast that preserves the face of a corpse before it decomposes. The attendant’s motives are unclear: some stories state that he was entranced by her beauty, but it is also possible that he was trying to better preserve the face for identification. Regardless, the mask became copied many times in the following years and became strangely popular in the artistic world.
The face became famous for its eerie smile, which looks enigmatic yet peaceful, even being compared to the smile of the Mona Lisa. The mask – known as L’Inconnue de la Seine (the unknown woman of the Seine) – became a popular, morbid fixture in the rooms of Parisian Bohemians.
In 1955, a Norwegian toymaker named Asmund Laerdal came across a novel material known as PVC, a soft plastic perfectly suitable for dolls. He found it to be a perfect material for the creation of a new training aid for the newly-invented CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) technique to be taught to those learning first aid. He wanted the mannequin to look as natural as possible. This is when Laerdal remembered a fixture on the wall of his grandparents’ house when he was younger: the L’Inconnue de la Seine. He considered the face to be ideal for the purpose of a resuscitation aide, with its peaceful, non-threatening features.
Thus, the Resusci Anne was created. Resusci Anne is by far the most popular CPR teaching tool used worldwide. It is often said that it is “the most kissed face in the world“, as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is a feature of CPR.
As charming and morbid the story may be, the story of L’Inconnue de la Seine has never been confirmed. It has only been passed on through history via novels, short stories and artists’ accounts. If you look closely at the face, the story seems less likely to be true, as a drowned corpse will often be much more bloated and disfigured from swelling, with a contorted, tortured face as victims frantically thrash and fight as the body screams for oxygen. The general consensus is that from a pathologist’s point of view, the mask is unlikely to be from a drowned young woman
Irregardless of the origin story of its face, the Resusci Anne has indubitably saved the lives of countless people around the world, by teaching people the important skills of CPR and first aid.
We live in the Information Era, where we have all of the knowledge of humanity, breaking news and updates from the lives of others at our fingertips in the form of smartphones and the internet. Thanks to big data, artificial intelligence and algorithms, we even have tailor-made playlists of music and videos delivered directly to us.
But along with convenience came a price. Entertainment is a business of attention. Companies constantly try to better capture our attention in the form of ads, algorithms and simple user interfaces. Our brains – as complex and wonderful they may be – much prefer the easy route than what is good for us. We have unfortunately become victims of those who wish to exploit this fact, to convert our attention and time into revenue.
Because of this, we now have shorter attention spans. Think about it: when is the last time you finished reading a book for leisure? When is the last time you sat and thought deeply about something with no distractions? When is the last time you laid on the ground and stared up at the sky, without checking your phone?
Everything comes to us now in small, bite-sized pieces. We have less tolerance for long pages of text or even videos longer than 5 minutes without being distracted by something else. Many people would have already closed this page, distracted by a notification from their phone or because they could not focus long enough to read 875 words on a page.
Our short attention spans result in us being less productive, less detail-oriented and thinking and feeling less deeply in general. We also engage in “unintentional leisure“, where we passively and mindlessly consume content and waste much more time than we intended. Instead of spending time on our hobbies and interests, our loved ones or productivity and creativity, we end up wasting a lot of time due to our fractured attention.
More importantly, the hallmark of being human is our ability to think. Because we have less attention and we feel like we need to constantly fill our time and attention with something new, we reserve less time to ponder and daydream. Instead of indulging in the luxury of idleness and letting our mind wander to explore the nooks and crannies of our brain and soul, we constantly crave a new distraction.
So how do we fight back and reclaim our attention? As highlighted above, one of the biggest threats is the internet and smartphones. One of the best ways to improve your attention span is to reduce the amount of screen time, by using apps that remind you how much time you’re spending online or on the phone, or specifically setting a blackout period where you do not use your phone for a set amount of time, whether it be an hour or a week. This forces you to engage in other activities such as picking up a book you had been meaning to read, starting a pet project or going on a walk with a friend.
Another tip is to find a passion that can engage your brain. We know from psychology that flow state – the state in which you are challenged and engaged at just the right balance – is one of the keys to happiness, because you can enter “the zone” where you are truly focussed and living the present. By getting involved in an activity such as reading, writing, music, sports, gaming, pottery or journaling, you can help train your brain to focus on a task for a prolonged time. This is particularly easier if you are actively interested in your passion, because you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.
Lastly, like any attempt at positive human behaviour change, you need systems. Determination will only last so long, but systems and habits let you change your life for the better in a permanent way. Use timers, reminders and apps to actively push you to do the above activities. Force yourself to go somewhere without internet access, such as going on a nature walk or going to a cafe with just a notebook, and tell yourself that for that time period, you can only do one thing such as thinking, reading or writing. Even if you do not accomplish much in that time period, it is the habit formation that is the crucial part.
Focussing and attention are the skills that have allowed humanity to progress as a species, letting us achieve monumental tasks such as figuring out how the forces of nature interact, solving global-scale problems, and developing seemingly magical technology such as getting us to the Moon and back. It would be such a shame to lose this wonderful, innate ability just so some company can generate more ad revenue.
Now that you have shown that you can focus on reading 875 words, what is something you want to focus on? Whether it be reading an entire book, starting and finishing a DIY project or starting a healthy habit such as gymming regularly or writing a blog, pick something to focus on and train your attention span.
You will find that life is so much better when you can utilise your time in a meaningful, productive manner.
How many times have you opened a social media app, scrolled through all of the new information, closed it, only to re-open it immediately? You may blame it on muscle memory or a slip of the mind, but this is an intentional design of the app to habituate you into consuming content passively.
Recommended videos, autoplay functions, infinite scrolling and constant notifications are all examples of this. We are heavily encouraged to let go of our conscious choice so that we can be spoon-fed content endlessly and mindlessly. It is only after several hours that we notice that we have not done anything productive for the whole day.
This is unfortunate as our phones and the internet can be of great asset to us when used wisely. We can learn about almost everything from educational videos, we can feel deep emotions and explore different perspectives through movies, while games can be an excellent outlet for stress relief and to have fun with friends.
However, it is so easy to fall into the trap of unintentional leisure, where we passively consume entertainment with no control over it.
To combat this, we must learn to be intentional when it comes to leisure.
Every time you catch yourself reaching for your phone or opening up something like YouTube or Netflix, ask yourself what you are planning to do. Are you wanting to reply to a specific message, or are you just “checking what’s new on Instagram”? Are you planning on watching a specific movie you were recommended, or do you think you’ll end up binging an entire season of reality TV?
If you cannot answer the question, set yourself an “intention“ before opening anything. When you pick up your phone, tell yourself that you will only reply to the message you received from your partner, or that you will look up a very specific thing you were curious about. Then, no matter how much you want to open another app “just to check”, put the phone down. Set a goal and a tangible deadline, such as playing a game for exactly one level, so that there is a definite end, rather than endlessly scrolling down the rabbit hole.
Alternatively, set time aside. Tell yourself that you will browse Reddit or Twitter for exactly 20 minutes (a timer might help), or that you will only view the next three videos on your saved playlist on Youtube. You could even consider time tracking (recording how much time you spend doing each activity through timers or screen-time apps) so you can visualise how much time is spent on each leisure activity. This may highlight significant imbalances or unintentional leisure time that you want to rein back on.
On a similar topic, create systems to fight against your brain defaulting to the easy route. Have phone- or internet-free time set aside each day, disable notifications or make it harder to open apps and put up visual reminders (or have a mantra) to be active and intentional. Go for a walk without your phone, or go to a cafe with a goal to only read a book or write in your notebook for two hours, no matter how little you actually do. Systems and good habits are the best way to promote a healthy and balanced lifestyle, because they become a part of who you are.
Essentially, you want to be active and deliberate about how you use your free time, giving you more control and efficiency over how you enjoy your life. You have so little time in life to grow as a person, to expand your horizons and to follow your passions; why waste it on things that will not add to your life in any way?
In certain parts of eastern North America, it has been noted for centuries that some summers seem to bring a massive swarm of cicadas. Observant naturalists such as Pehr Kalm noted in the mid-1700’s that this mass emergence of adult cicadas happened every 17 years. Since then, a similar pattern has been observed with many different broods of cicadas, with precisely 17 or 13 years between emergences of mature cicadas.
What could possibly explain such a specific, long gap between these spikes?
This phenomenon has been well-researched and the species of cicadas (Magicicada) are known as periodical cicadas. They can be distinguished by their striking black bodies and red eyes. Like most cicadas, periodical cicadas start their lives as nymphs living underground, feeding on tree roots. They take 13 or 17 years (depending on the genus) until they emerge all at once in the summer as mature adults – far longer than the 1-9 years seen in other cicadas. After such a long period of growth, they emerge for a few glorious weeks in the sun to mate, before laying eggs and disappearing.
The astute reader would notice that both 13 and 17 are prime numbers (a number divisible only by itself or 1). Is this a sheer coincidence or a beautiful example of mathematics in nature?
This curious, specifically long period of maturation has been a great point of interest for scientists. The phenomenon of mass, synchronised maturation is a well-documented survival strategy known as predator satiation. Essentially, if the entire population emerges at the same time, predators feast on the large numbers, get full and stop hunting as much. The surviving proportion (still a great number), carry on to reproduce and the species survives.
One theory holds that the prime numbers are so that predators cannot synchronise their population booms with the cicadas. If the cicadas all emerged every 4 years, a predator who matures every 4 or 2 years could exploit this by having a reliable source of food in a cyclical pattern. 13 and 17 are large enough prime numbers that it would be very difficult for a predator to synchronise its maturation cycles with.
Another possible theory is that it is a remnant of a survival strategy from the Ice Age. Mathematical models have shown that staying as a nymph for a longer period increased the chances of adults emerging during a warm summer, rather than when it is too cold for reproduction. This resulted in broods of varying, lengthy cycles, but this created another problem: hybridisation. When broods of different cycle lengths intermingled, hybridisation could occur and disrupt the precise timing of maturation cycles, decreasing the brood’s survival rate. Prime number cycles such as 13 or 17 years have a much less chance of hybridisation, increasing the survival rate.
As Galileo Galilei said, mathematics is the language in which the universe is written. It is fascinating to see examples of how maths can influence natural phenomena, even the life cycles of insects.
Even though nothing special actually happens on January 1st, we like to think that it is the perfect time to start anew and become a better you. We set goals and resolutions for the New Year in the hopes of making a positive life change, but we quickly find that it is insanely hard to change our behaviours.
Our brains love defaulting to the lazy option and will justify bad behaviours, so we fall into the cycle of mediocrity and bad habits. This is why in January, we see the gym full of people of steely resolve aiming to lose weight, but by February, the gym has cleared out and only the regular exercisers remain.
We can combat this tendency (and cliché) for New Year’s resolutions failing with SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-based), such as “I want to lose 5kg of weight within one year”. Having a clear, realistic goal that can be reviewed along the way is much more effective than a vague resolution that can easily be forgotten or warped by our feeble minds.
But even SMART goals have flaws. Not meeting goals can be crushing to our self-esteem, which seems contrary to our resolution to become healthier. The pressure of goals can take away from enjoying simple pleasures of life and we can easily obsess over meaningless metrics such as daily step counts.
If you feel that goals are too daunting or easy to fail, an alternative is to set a broad theme for the year. For example, the New Year could be a Year of Reading, Year of Less, Year of Health or Year of Balance. Instead of specific goals or unrealistic resolutions, themes allow you to set a broad undertone for the year, guiding your everyday decisions and actions.
For example, a Year of Novelty may push you to go on an adventure to a country you have never been to, instead of a safe holiday to a place you go to every year. A Year of Learning might make you choose to read about a new skill or hobby instead of watching another episode of reality TV. Themes act as algorithms or bots assisting your decision-making. Essentially, every time it is applicable, think about how a choice or decision (no matter how small) fits into your yearly theme and act accordingly.
When you look back at the end of the year, you will notice that there were ups and downs, such as your weight fluctuating, but as long as you keep to your theme, the general trend will hopefully have been positive and you would have enacted change. Changes in human behaviour happen on slow scales, so seeing the big picture is very important to keep up your motivation.
Themes should be broad, letting you adapt to change and unexpected obstacles. For example, an illness or accident may make a goal of saving $5000 for the year unrealistic. But a Year of Finance will accommodate for this, because you will instead be setting up healthy habits such as eliminating unnecessary costs such as subscriptions, keeping account books and tackling high-interest debts. Even slowing down the accumulation of debt will be a positive life change in this situation. Over the course of your life, you will be much better off because you changed your behaviour and created a healthy system.
It does not matter what word you choose as your theme, as long as it is applicable to and resonates with you, so that you stay interested in it. The act of applying the theme itself will become a habit, training your mind to be more focussed and act with direction. If a year seems too long, you can always change the time period to a month, a quarter or a season – such as Autumn of Gratitude.
At the end of the day, setting a theme for the year is a simple tool that is very easy to apply, while having the potential to be far more effective and powerful compared to a flimsy resolution. It takes little effort to set a broad theme and the direction you want to head in, especially if it resonates with your inner desire for positive change.
The only way to grow and improve yourself is to think about how to improve yourself and take action. Having a simple system such as a theme is the easiest start to getting in the habit of actively improving your life.
“Shoot for the moon: even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”.
The saying was coined by author Normal Vincent Peale, who was a minister famous for his books and work on the power of positive thinking. He was also widely criticised by many psychologists and mental health experts, who noted that his style of positive psychology was not founded in evidence and realism, but in naive optimism.
The saying sounds lovely at first, because it seems to be a beautiful metaphor for trying your best at everything. It says that whatever happens, you will land on another beautiful opportunity and good things will happen.
But of course, life does not work that way. As important as it is to make an effort to try and take action, you will not always be positively rewarded for it.
As it is with everything, science can help us break down the flaws with the philosophy of this saying.
Firstly, the Moon is 384,400km away from Earth. It took brilliant scientists and mathematicians with a significant amount of NASA budget 6 years on the Apollo program to put astronauts on the Moon.
Dreams are certainly achievable, but we cannot ignore that sometimes we have to pour in much time, resources and energy to achieve them. When we look upon someone’s success, it is important to consider how much effort they may have put in. Furthermore, it is paramount that we be realistic with our goals and dreams, in that we need to be patient and accept that it could take a series of failures, sacrifices and heartbreak for us to land on the Moon.
Secondly, space is unimaginably massive. If you shoot for the moon and you miss, there is a very high chance that you will float along the lonely, vast emptiness of space for the rest of eternity in a vacuum before you hit anything else (realistically, you will die of suffocation, thirst, starvation or being frozen first). The nearest star to us is the Sun, 150 million kilometres away. The second closest star – Proxima Centauri – is about 4.24 light years away. This means that even if you travelled at the speed of light, it would take 4.24 years, covering a distance of 40 trillion kilometres.
This fact teaches us that we have to be prepared for the fact that when we chase our dreams, there is a chance of things catastrophically failing. That is just life.
Lastly, even if by some miracle you survived the journey and landed among the stars, it would not be what we expect. As romantic as it sounds to land and live on a star like the Little Prince, in reality, stars look much like the Sun – a gigantic, glowing ball of fire. You will be incinerated even before you land on it.
And there is our final lesson from this saying: even if you achieve your goals, the end result may be completely different to what you expected. You may not even be happy with the outcome. So avoid pinning all of your hopes and happiness on achieving a single dream. Make sure to diversify your goals and identity.
As factually wrong as the saying may be, we can still learn valuable lessons from it, albeit completely the opposite message. But perhaps this is the more important truth in life: sometimes, we fail to achieve our dreams.
That said, we must continue to try for our goals and dreams, just with realistic expectations of how life can go. Had NASA given up after the tragic fiery accident of Apollo 1, we may have never been able to experience the glorious moment of humanity setting foot on another celestial body.
Shoot for the moon, but maybe have a backup plan. And if you fail, don’t lose heart and give up, but instead try again and try new, different things constantly.
In the early 20th century, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a prayer preaching about how one should approach hardship. The most well-known version of the prayer goes:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”
Regardless of whether one is religious or not, this prayer is very helpful as it highlights and beautifully summarises the philosophy of fighting for change and also radical acceptance. It has since been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous for their twelve-step recovery program and is often quoted in self-help and well-being texts and courses.
When we are faced with hardship or a stressful situation, our brain may easily default to fighting against it. We may go into denial, find something to blame, judge the situation, or simply lash out with anger and frustration. We may even choose to give up completely and flee from the situation, sometimes withdrawing into ourselves to protect our fragile egos.
But these are all destructive behaviours secondary to our primal fight-or-flight response that end up wasting our time and energy. It is driven by adrenaline, base emotions and instincts, meaning that it is crude, unrefined and can be harmful to our long-term mental health.
When we are unhappy with a situation, we will often have the power to change things for the better, even if we don’t see it at the time. We could address a problem directly by communicating our concerns with a colleague or asking for a promotion. We could change how we are behaving, such as trying a more assertive rather than aggressive tone, or using the tit-for-tat approach so that we are not too hostile or too much of a doormat. We could re-prioritise our life so that we have a better work-life balance, such as taking more leave so that we can destress and reset. We could alter our environment by leading a change in culture or moving jobs or cities (although geographic solutions are never a great answer). We could also change how we respond to our environment, such as learning self-soothing or grounding exercises to calm our unsettled headspace and feelings.
We often forget that we have the power to change things for the better because we get so caught up in stress and chaos, or because we don’t trust or believe in ourselves enough. This is why the first step of the Serenity Prayer is to stop and think about how we can improve the situation by changing what we can. Because some things such as love, happiness, our identities, our self-worth and our well-being are all worth fighting for.
Then again, there are some things we just can’t change, no matter how hard we fight. The beauty of the Serenity Prayer is that it acknowledges reality for what it is: we can’t always get what we want and we can’t win every battle. That’s just life. So instead of throwing ourselves against a brick wall – causing suffering and feeling powerless – we can choose to accept our situation. This is the concept of radical acceptance.
Radical acceptance is not the same as giving up. It is a non-judgemental view of the world, accepting that bad things happen sometimes without any specific reason. Instead of entering a spiral of anger, frustration or despair, we can choose to be mindful of our emotions, let ourselves feel them, but also recognise that they are not permanent and this moment – no matter how hard it feels now – will pass. It is an active choice to accept our situation rather than waste mental and emotional energy. You may not approve of the situation, but you accept that you cannot change it, so you must change your perspective and state of mind instead.
A good example of how the Serenity Prayer can help in daily life is when you are stuck in traffic. You could choose to rage at the car in front of you for their bad driving, rage at the city council for poor planning, or rage at the world for your misfortune, but this does literally nothing to help your situation. Instead, you can recognise that this is frustrating, then let that feeling pass so you can think of how to better use your time and energy. You can call in to let your boss know that you will be late. You can think of alternative routes that might help you shave some time. You can make a note to remind your future self to leave earlier or use a different route next time.
But if you can’t shorten the time that you are in traffic, then you can accept the situation for what it is. Now, you can use your mental energy doing and thinking about things you enjoy, rather than letting yourself be consumed by your emotions. You can listen to a podcast you had been meaning to listen to for a while. You can do some breathing exercises and meditate. You can start planning that pet project you were thinking about for some time. You’ll still be late to wherever you were going, but at least you’ll feel more settled and productive rather than having built-up anger and anxiety, ruining the rest of your fine day.
The simplicity of the Serenity Prayer means that it is applicable in almost all aspects of your life. For example, if you feel that you are unhappy with your relationship with your partner, friend or family, then you can do the same thing.
Explore your feelings and why you may be feeling them.
Ask yourself what negative, probably untrue stories you are telling yourself.
If you identify a specific problem, try to solve it using different strategies, such as talking to them, reaching out first or changing your own behaviours.
If it is an issue of self-esteem, read about how to improve your own mental health through positive psychology.
If you have exhausted all of the tactics and efforts to improve the situation to no avail, then either consider a drastic change such as investing less emotional energy into that relationship, or radically accept the situation.
It could be that you are asking too much of your partner – to be your best friend, lover, father, househusband and support person – and you have to accept that one person cannot fill every role perfectly. It could be that your friendship with a friend is of a fun nature, not a supportive nature. It could be that you and your mother will never truly be friends or understand each other fully, but it does not change that you love and care for each other. Change what you can; accept what you cannot.
Over time, practising the Serenity Prayer in your approach to daily problems will train you to be more mindful of your feelings, analyse situations rationally and help you to be level-headed and calm in critical situations because you will think less reactively and emotionally. Whether you are religious or not, the Serenity Prayer is a simple yet powerful tool in improving the quality of your life and well-being.
Game theory is the study of using mathematical models to understand how rational decision-makers would strategically act in a given environment. One concept from game theory is that of the zero-sum game, where there is a finite amount of utility shared between players, meaning that if one person gains something, another must lose something to balance it out.
A classic example is a game of competitive sports, where there can be only one winner. For you to win, someone else must lose. A zero-sum game can have as few as two players (such as a singles tennis match) or many players (such as a game of poker, where every dollar you win is a dollar taken away from the other players).
From a young age, we see many examples of zero-sum games. We play sports and board games where there is a clear winner. We are marked on curve and compared to our classmates in exams. We compete for jobs and romantic partners. Competitiveness is driven into us and is sold as a survival skill.
This leads us to be prone to zero-sum thinking which can lead to many biases. Some studies show students acting more competitively and less inclined to help their peers if they were graded on a curve (e.g. percentiles), rather than grade categories (e.g. A, B, C). We think that if someone is a jack of all trades, they are masters of none, because surely no one can “have it all”. Many people oppose immigration because they believe that immigrants will take the finite number of jobs and houses. Some people negotiate aggressively in a deal, thinking that “your loss is my gain”. In severe cases, people may even sabotage others to increase their gains.
However, life is not always a zero-sum game. Game theory also describes non-zero-sum games, where the net balance of utility between all participants can be higher (or lesser) than zero. Simply put, in a non-zero-sum game, there can be more than one winner and sometimes, everyone can be a winner.
The best example of this is the mutual benefit born from cooperation. Zero-sum thinking may dictate that you must conquer your neighbouring tribe because they are your competition, but throughout history, cooperation, peace and harmony have prevailed as the winning strategy, because it results in greater net gain.
Happiness is also a non-zero-sum game, where just because someone else is happy, it does not take away from your happiness. But for some reason, some people cannot stand to watch others happy, or feel they must be happier than those around them. These people constantly try to “one-up” others, not recognising others’ happiness, or even sabotaging others and making them feel bad because they can’t stand to see other people be happier than them. This is an extremely toxic, unnecessary behaviour, that should be unacceptable in any kind of relationship, particularly between friends or family.
The far healthier behaviour is to be happy for others’ happiness, regardless of your life situation. This is why compassion is one of the keys for happiness. Realising that we can all find our own joy and contentness and help each other find happiness is a key step in being sustainably happy.
A year is the amount of time the Earth takes to rotate around the Sun once. But strictly speaking, this does not have a large impact on our lives or our progress and growth as a person. The concept of a year is largely a construct of our minds to keep track of time; we could just as easily count time in 100-day increments or 3 years, given that most of our lives are not based on agriculture anymore. However, keeping track of time in years is useful because it gives us a reference frame, letting us compare our lives to a set point in the past, or to set goals for a set point in the future.
The practise of taking stock of the year that has been is great because we are naturally blind to change when it happens slowly. We are very bad at noticing gradual changes, so we will often be surprised that our hair looks longer or our body looks better than the past when we look at an old photo. Therefore, reviewing an entire year worth of moments and change will show you exactly how much we have experienced and grown. There will be many relationships and connections you’ve deepened, adventures you had forgotten about and much personal growth that seem so much healthier and more mature compared to your past self.
If that is the case for reviewing a year, then how about reviewing an entire decade? The close of a decade is a rare moment and ten years is a surprisingly long period of time when you really think about it. Some people reading this may be so young that they do not even know exactly what they were like or what happened ten years ago.
Look back on your past decade: how was it? Walk down memory lane in your head, through your journals and photo albums, reviewing and reflecting on how your life played out the past ten years.
What were some of the best and worst moments of each year?
What were the memorable moments and photos and stories?
What big events happened?
Where did you travel to?
What new skills or passions did you pick up on the way?
What new people came into your life and where are they now?
How have you grown in the past ten years?
What goals and dreams have you achieved in that time?
Most importantly: how happy are you now, and what things have contributed to your happiness/unhappiness?
You will be surprised to find the amount of content ten years can contain and how remarkable the amount of change is possible in ten years. It makes you wonder what the next decade has in store for you; what exciting journeys and meetings, what joys and sorrows, what growth and improvements await you?
We have very little choice about who we have as family. But friends are a different story: we choose who we want to spend time with and call our friends. The beauty of friendship is that it is an active choice. By calling someone our friend, we are telling them that we appreciate their presence in our lives, that we enjoy spending time with them, that we care about their well-being and wish them good fortunes in the future.
That said – as emphasised above – friendship is a choice. We can’t choose our family, but we can choose our friends. If a friendship becomes toxic, burdensome and a major source of stress more than what you gain from it, you have the power to leave the friendship (or vice versa).
We know from psychological studies that one of the most common starts to friendship is the propinquity effect, where we are more likely to like and befriend people who we are regularly exposed to and in close proximity to. This explains why when we are young, our friend group seems to be based around people from school, university and work.
But as we grow older, we learn that proximity and history alone is not enough to maintain friendship. In adulthood, we constantly face pressures such as work demands, romantic relationships and various life stressors. We have so little free time to invest in those around us, so why would we want to use up time to maintain relationships that do not add anything to our lives, let alone those who take from us or bring us down?
Like with any other kind of relationship, friendships should be evaluated and re-evaluated over time. Life is too short to spend time on those who do not earn or deserve our trust, loyalty and love. Life is also too short to take for granted the amazing people around us and to not celebrate the beautiful relationships that build us up and support us in times of need.
When we find that a friendship is becoming toxic, leaving us with a bitter taste in our mouth at the end of each encounter and making us wonder if they add anything to our lives, then we should seriously consider addressing it with communication or distancing our hearts from them.
These are the connections we should be investing our precious little personal time towards, because they are the friendships that amount to something greater, where the sum is greater than the parts, where 1 + 1 = 3.