Two Ways To Do The Math

An unexpected expense messes up your vacation budget. Hitting three red lights on the way to work makes you frustratingly late. You bump your elbow just the wrong way at just the wrong angle—a freak shot—and it breaks in two places. What terrible luck. Exactly when you don’t need it. The world can be a cruel place.

That’s one way to look at it. Of course, the other would be to remember the times you thought something was going to cost a lot more and ended up saving money (or that unexpected pay raise). Or the time when you hit so many green lights in a row it seemed like your drive was blessed. Or the time where, had things gone slightly differently, you would have been glad to escape with only a broken bone—the time when you easily could have died.

There are two ways to do math in this life. The one that looks at the odds and says, Why me? and the other that looks at the same odds and thinks, Why me? Why am I so lucky? That’s what Epictetus meant when he said “every situation has two handles.” We can see all the things that go wrong in the world, all the breaks we didn’t get, all the things we wish went differently. Or we can see how truly fortunate we are to be born here and now in a time of antibiotics and chemotherapy, to have the privilege of even owning a computer to look at this email, to count our blessings and acknowledge how far ahead we have come out so far.

We choose which handle we will grab, which math we will do. And this decision determines the quality of our life, long or short, easy or arduous.