“Live every day like it’s your last.” Sounds like great advice, but it has a major flaw. If today was your last day alive, you’d probably get a bunch of hookers and blow, then party in a hotel room until your heart stopped. (Or maybe that’s just me.) But despite the imperfect phrasing of the advice to “live every day like it’s your last,” the message is solid: one of these days, you’re going to wake up for the last time, and that’s going to be it. Over. Done. No more life for you. The thought turns the abstract nature of death into a concept you can grasp and imagine. However, instead of thinking about death as imminent – which encourages you to go out in a flame of hedonistic glory – I propose that you think about it like this:
“Live every day like you were diagnosed with a terminal illness yesterday and you have one year left to live.”
Yes, it’s much less quotable, but much more practical and just as important to think about.
The actual timeframe isn’t relevant; we are simply trying to acknowledge the fact that we won’t live forever.
How would your priorities change? How would you allocate your time if you got smacked in the face with the realization that your life had an expiration date? Would you still be doing the work that you’re doing right now? If you knew in a year’s time that this life would be over, would you take everything so seriously and let yourself get upset because the wifi isn’t working? Would you have dinner with your folks? Would you be reading all of those stupid articles about Donald Trump, or would you instead read the great philosophers, who taught us how to live life to the fullest?
We throw away our time like it’s some renewable resource. We exchange our limited lifespan for hoards of money that has no value to us once we’re gone. We are hamsters chasing things that we think will bring us happiness in the future, ignoring the fact that the only thing we’re guaranteed is this moment right now.
We need to stop pretending that we will live forever, and start living today.
In the amazing book When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer right as he enters the apex of his neurosurgery career. His process of dealing with his approaching death is eye-opening and forces you to confront your own mortality.
In On the Shortness of Life, Seneca muses on the various ways that people waste their time as if it will last forever. Stoic philosophies are a wonderful approach to life, teaching us about how to live virtuously through the high and low points that we will all face.