Death and dying has been a pretty popular topic around me lately. Recently, a co-worker died at the age of 56 one night. In that same week, my boss’s husband suffered a serious heart attack and it was initially thought he would stay in a coma. These events have caused a lot of people, including myself, to reflect on our existence and those other heady topics best left to philosophers. After all, in the grand scheme of things, none of us are all that long to the world.
Thinking about a life worth living, my views have changed little in the last decade. I feel I’m pretty lucky to have come to my conclusions when I did, without so much time being wasted. The logic I use to live is to “do THINGS that make you HAPPY”. I think it’s the THINGS that most people overlook.
Everyone has heard someone say “enjoy what you do”, but that’s only half of it. If you lived a hundred years and on the first second of the 101st year of life you looked back, what would you see? If you follow the prescription of enjoy what you do every day, and every day since you were 20 you did just that, you did one THING that made you happy. How would you look back on your life?
Sure you could say you were happy, that’s part of the hypothetical, but what have you done? What would you remember. Your life could be summarized as two stages or periods, pre-twenty years old and post twenty years old. Following the "happy" coarse, it wouldn’t matter if you lived to a thousand years old, your past would be remembered as the "thing that made me happy for 9980 years and the thing I did before that." If your life were a JPEG, you would be a pretty small file even if the image were large. I’d rather be an image with very little compression.
We mark the passing of time with events. We mark our existence through our accomplishments and failures. Without events, without THINGS there is no reason to note the passing of time. When I look back at my life, I don’t think of the work-weeks that disappeared without incident. Those weeks all blend together, wasted. One week or a thousand, they are remembered the same, even if during that time I may have been happy. With a finite amount of time here, we can’t afford to waste large periods that will only be remembered as one THING.
The THINGS I do add time to my life, add depth and add markers. The more foolish, grand, stupid, funny, or even tragic the THING is the more weight it has. The more "time" it pulls to itself, the more you can tie your past to it.
It was after I added “I am he the chosen one” sign to my back windshield that I got pulled over for kidnapping and before I painted the smiley face on the hood.
The THINGS we use as reference points are events and projects that stand out most from our day to day existence. Creating something new can only happen once, and makes a great anchor in time. The day I wrote that song, painted that picture, even cooked that awesome dinner, these THINGS stand out. The 234th time I made Kraft Mac and Cheese doesn’t.
Even more useful, are the THINGS so memorable that even the classes of events are near unique; college trip to Florida, road trip to Massachusetts, kicking the clown out of the dunking booth and all the foolish things that went with each of those events.
Sure you could fill your life with serious accomplishments. THINGS you can look back on, beaming with pride. They work too, and you need those as well.
However, when you look back, when you look back and smile it’s the foolish crap you did that puts a grin on your face. For me it’s the drunk tree climbing, the throwing Mikes bed out the window, the bon fires, the road trips, the Slackers Weekends, and the parties. The THINGS that you do just for the hell of it. The foolish THINGS.
When I look back on my life, I take comfort in knowing that it will require more than a short while to reflect on where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I already know it’s more rewarding then looking back and saying I was happy for 80 years doing x, and before that I did y.
I’m already looking forward to the next foolish THING even as I type this.