“Live each day like it will be your last.” This advice is a bit suspicious. As a medievalist, I’m all in favor of the occasional memento mori, and it’s Halloween season, but, well… MORBID! If I really started thinking about dying tomorrow, I would spend the rest of the day sobbing my goodbyes into the phone. It would be like drunk-dialing “I LOVE YOU, MAN! NO, I REALLY REALLY LOVE YOU!” except nobody’s later memories of that day would be at all amusing. Also, I would focus much too much on eating multiple flavors of Oreos, on top of my other favorite foods, such as sauerkraut and pickles, to the point that if I did live another day, I might wish I hadn’t. On second thought, let’s not go to Memento Mori. Tis a silly place.
What I’d really like to talk about is what would be different if we knew we were going to live forever. What would you do every day if you knew you never would die?
The first thing I’m thinking is that I would be very worried about taking care of my gums. I’m 40, and I already know my body is capable of aging. There is no reason to assume that immortality would come with eternal youth. Better start being more careful with the sunblock.
Money is a question. There are two ways of tackling the fiscal aspects of living forever. Either you assume the law of compounding will work in your favor, or you look around at the elders in your acquaintance and guess which ones feel they have adequate wherewithal for their golden years. Yikes, right? Taking care of Future Self becomes a much bigger deal when thinking in centuries rather than decades.
In some ways, we are rather like immortals. My chances of living to 40 as a woman would have been fairly low in most cultures throughout human history. My chances of living to 70 would have been considered low through most of the 20th century, even in the wealthiest, most advanced nations. Now, I have to assume I will live to be at least 85 as a matter of pure common sense. If I accidentally live to be 120, that’s an additional 35 years of inflation and savings I need to calculate. Prudent financial planning demands that I be as optimistic as possible about my potential lifespan.
Money is only one aspect of planning to live a long life. There is this whole concept of “retirement.” I am just as skeptical of this as I am of the idea that we should live each day as though it is our last. This is partly because I used to sit at the desk of a man who had retired, only to find out that he had cancer a couple months later. I’m not sure he made it six months. (He was a sweet person; may he rest in peace). It’s fairly common for people to die shortly after their retirement. I’m young yet, but in some ways I “retired” at 35, and I can tell you something: IT IS BORING. After spending the first year taking two or three naps a day, and mastering all the crops in Farmville, you just need something more. That something turns out to be this little thing they call WORK.
This is the most interesting part of the idea of living as though we will live forever. What would we do with the time? What sort of project would be stimulating and challenging enough to keep us going? Ice sculpture? (Channeling Bill Murray here). Mastering chess? Writing a series of fantasy novels? Painting an epic ceiling? Ridding the world of extreme poverty? Developing a new variety of fruit? I mean, TV would have to be significantly better than it is now for me to want to sit there and watch it for a few million years.
On an epochal time scale, we can dream of accomplishing amazing things. Imagine building something like the Great Wall of China in one lifetime. Of course, the entire point of this exercise is that we should be imagining building anything in one lifetime. Do we really know how much we can bring into the world in even as little as three years? What is the longest we have spent focused on one endeavor? The truth is that most people’s outrageous dreams are completely feasible with existing resources and technology. It’s a mystery why we don’t go after them and make them happen. We most likely don’t have endless eons to bring our wishes into existence – although so far, I’m 100% successful at immortality – and it only makes sense to make the best possible use of the time we have available.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.