The nature of the human condition is that we are bound by the confines of time. We feel it pressing in, crawling by, whooshing past, and ticking off a constant reminder of our mortality. Pop psychology urges us to live in the moment, historians beseech us to remember the past, and politicians compel us to think of the future. Time can feel like a contender that we spar with in the boxing ring of life. So, in light of this circumstance, how is life best lived? Should we always live life as though we only have one day left?
This is a question best answered within a precise context and with specificity of intent. The spirit of the question is pungent with the notion that life is precious. If we treasure this day, as we would if we knew it were our last, we will vastly improve our ability to live by our values. Our values are those things that we prioritize in a theoretical hierarchy, but that often get sabotaged by the pressures of the minutia of daily routines. We often give lip service to the fact that time is precious but when push comes to shove, meals, dishes, laundry, bills, work, and television can easily monopolize our days. If we participate in these activities without the context that they matter, that they are integral actions that are part of our greater value system, life can seem disappointingly irrelevant. One of the best weapons against a feeling of irrelevance is gratitude. When we live life with gratitude, we are prone to kindness, compassion and a sense of well-being that keeps the preciousness of live always in view. I heartily endorse living each day as if it is the last if this means engaging our gratitude muscles as we fight against being overtaken by apathy or poverty of spirit.
If, however, we take the question at hand with a literal interpretation, like a Hollywood screenwriter would be prone to do, living life as though we only have one day left is absurdly unsustainable. Considering the level of heightened intensity that would correspond to actually being told you have a single day left, shifting our mindset to a paradigm of this nature would be exhausting. It would also potentially subjugate any ideals of living a life that serves others. Any battle against egoism could be quickly lost because of the constant sense that this is my last day of life on earth. Many people would choose a quick chase after adventure, fortune, fame or a meeting with someone who has already achieved those things that they admire. Even those whose chief value revolves around loved ones would drop all other activities to spend their last day experiencing the fullness of their closest relationships. While this seems like an admirable aim, the truth is that if we live as though today is our last, we are prone to sacrifice activities that make tomorrow better than today. As Aristotle said, virtue is activity in accordance with reason. The grocery shopping and carpool line actually matter. Literally living as though today is our last round in the fight forfeits the possibilities of tomorrow.
Ultimately, I believe that we shouldn’t live each day as though we have only one day left, but we should live with eternity in mind. The fact that the movement of time often feels so alien might indicate that we as people will someday experience time in a way that feels more authentic and natural. Living with eternity in mind makes it possible to value each day, each moment, each experience as ripe with meaning and purpose and yet, not to take the slippery, regrettable moments too seriously. This philosophy implies that there will be days ahead that are more than timeless. They will be time-full, precious and satisfying to our yearnings to live well. This is how I want to live each day.
GO with love!