March 30, 2023

Life is short – and it’s a good thing

One of the biggest life challenges in a human’s life is coming to terms with mortality. It’s a source of our childhood nightmares – and I know more than a few grownups who still dread even thinking about death.

I have written about death before – my approach has been that life is like a game, and there is nothing bad in getting off the field once your time is up.

Oliver Burkeman, in his excellent book ‘Four Thousand Weeks’ goes further. He argues that our mortality is what gives our life meaning.

You may have encountered this scenario – imagine living in a big city (New York, London, Paris). One day an old friend or a relative visits you. They come armed with travelers guides, TripAdvisor articles, and tourist maps, with a packed schedule for a week’s worth of sightseeing. 

You look at their plans and realize you haven’t seen 10% of what they will see. 

But somehow it’s OK because they are visiting and you live here. They are only coming for a week; you have years ahead. You will take your time and see all those places and more – no rush.

Sadly, If you are anything like me, you won’t see any of these places. But somehow, it’s OK because there’s always tomorrow.

Oliver Burkeman argues that this is how most people live their lives. We put up with today because tomorrow will be better. Once we deal with the problems and work things out, life will get better, and we will finally enjoy it. And, same as our long-term sightseeing plans, it never happens.  Why? Because we don’t realize (or refuse to realize) that our life is finite. We don’t have that much time left.

 Thinking that there’s always tomorrow is the same as thinking we will live forever. 

There’s another ugly consequence of not coming to terms with our mortality. Thinking there’s always tomorrow makes us less likely to put effort into what matters today. It makes us prone to distractions, such as social media and alcohol. Things that matter are complicated, reminding us that we have limits. Social network feed filled with bloopers and 3-minute cutouts from the best movies and TV shows has no limits – it’s never-ending. And alcohol will numb the feeling that something is not right. 

Strangely enough, making ourselves more productive can have an adverse effect. Have you noticed that replying to emails brings more emails? If we think there’s always tomorrow, any increase in productivity will result in more work, as we will just immediately fill up the time we freed with something else – and important things can still stay undone as we are getting more efficient in cleaning our desks and ticking simple tasks off our task list. 

Alcohol and drugs help us escape reality – and the reality is that we are all living our lives on death row, not knowing when we will be called for execution. 

But there’s another way of thinking about death. Knowing that we are only here for a limited time, like everything around us, gives us a reason to enjoy each day. People around us are precious because they won’t always be there. Your child will eventually grow up – so stop thinking of childhood as a prep school for adulthood, and enjoy each day of his growing up instead. 

To sum up – embracing our mortality can bring a more meaningful and fulfilling life. When we recognize that our time is limited, we are more likely to prioritize what truly matters, cherish our relationships, and be present in the moments that make life worth living. 

By acknowledging that our time is limited, we can shift our focus from distractions and temporary escapes to the experiences and connections that enrich our lives. We can stop postponing our happiness and stop putting off our dreams for a tomorrow that may never come. 

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