The Key to Having a Worthwhile Existence

11 06 2009

Time seems to go fast, especially as you get older. Just before my fifth birthday,  I remember reflecting (do four-year-olds reflect?) on how long the past year had been. After celebrating my birthday a few weeks ago, I reflected again – except this time, it seems that the previous year sprinted by.

What was the difference between those years? Memorability. When you are four years old, almost everything you do is vivid, new, and exciting. One day would have more unique memories than a week, or even a month, for me now. Looking back now, I don’t feel very satisfied or fulfilled about the past semester; it seems much shorter than the one before it. When compared to freshman year at school, this year seems to be a fraction of the time – because it had fewer memorable experiences.

This implies that the more memorable experiences you have, the more satisfying and fulfilling your life seems – because as you think back, there appears to be more that happened. It’s all about our perception. If every day for you consists of drinking a cup of coffee, going to work, coming home, watching TV, and going to sleep, you probably won’t perceive the past year as being long or fulfilling. On your deathbed (if you have the luxury of slowly dying in a bed) your life will feel, well, empty.

This leads some people to conclude that life is about emotions, and they become emotional monsters that ride a constant rollercoaster that ultimately wrecks – they contribute nothing. Other people conclude that life is about experiences, and they do as much as they can – only to find that having one experience after another leaves one burnt out, and ultimately empty. Studying for test after test gave me many experiences this semester, but not at all fulfilling ones.

So how does one have a life that feels long and fulfilling? Have memorable experiences. Routine boosts productivity, but it is a trade-off with memories. You want both of these, so it takes some balance.

This brings us right back to where we started. Today I was listening to an accelerated learning audiobook, and the author described how when emotions are combined with an experience, it becomes much more memorable. When we are young, we have intense emotional experiences associated with everything – from our first time in a grocery store, to playing on the pavement in the middle of the road. If we can mix emotions with our day-to-day activities now, when we look back, we’ll feel that we have had a great deal of time in which we’ve done a great deal of interesting things – and feel satisfied.

You may have heard people talk about how doing something new with your romantic partner can spice up a stale relationship. The same goes for your life – go try something new, or something that is interesting to you, or anything that gives you memorable experiences. It’ll stick out in your mind later, and you’ll feel like you’ve lived a much longer, much happier life.

Advertisements