One of the big questions we will often find ourselves asking during moments of introspection, is whether or not we are living a life that we will one day be proud of. This tends to come down to the way we might appraise our lives from our deathbed – if you continue to live life the way you are currently, then would you look back and think: ‘I lived a full life’? Or would you be filled with regrets and disappointment?
This is a question that will often guide the decisions we make, and one that many people wrestle with. But how can you possibly know the answer? And are you approaching the concern in the right way?
The idea for this article came to me when recently discussing the topic with my friend. He’s a great guy, but he’s also someone that you might describe as a little ‘off the rails’. A little ‘unhinged’ perhaps… Suffice to say he parties hard, and often at the expense of his own wellbeing.
While on a night out, he confided in me that his Gran was unwell and that it had been making him think about how he would feel on his deathbed about the way he lived his life. Was he living it to the full? And was it something he could be proud of?
So I of course asked him what conclusion he came to, and he answered that he should ‘party more’. He then elaborated by saying that he wouldn’t be likely to lament the hours he didn’t spend behind the desk, and so instead he should spend his time ‘out there’ partying, meeting people and chasing new experiences.
And I imagine that many people would take a similar view when asked that question. But I also felt that it was a little bit misguided…
Criticisms of the ‘Party More’ Hypothesis
Personally I am getting to the age where I don’t feel like going out quite as often as I once did. I never partied quite as hard this guy, but when I was at Uni I would go out three times a week or more, I’ve been on a few lad’s holidays, and when I first moved to Leeds and then later London I certainly tried out a few of the bars. And I had some adventures and created some ‘stories’ and the whole thing was great.
But these days I don’t really feel like it, and I don’t think that that means I’m necessarily ‘wasting my life’. In fact I think it’s quite the opposite.
Were I more direct, my response to this friend would have been: ‘don’t you think that’s a little vacuous?’. Sure, you’re not really ‘living’ if you spend all day in an office, but are you really ‘living’ if you spend all day drunk and dancing?
Another friend of mine was talking recently about how he wanted to sleep with lots of women before he died so that he didn’t regret missing out on that experience. Again though, I wonder if that’s something he really wants to do in order to live a fulfilling life, or whether it’s just a combination of his hormones and of societies perception of males that are telling him that.
Other Types of Fulfilment
So I’m in a long-term relationship, I’m saving for a house, and I don’t really go out that often any more. Am I going to look back and think I wasted these years?
Well I would argue not, because in the last few years I’ve had some far more fulfilling and amazing experiences than I ever would do in a club. For one I have gotten incredibly close to someone I love, and I have gotten to feel needed as a result – which is really rather life affirming. At the same time though I’ve also run the London marathon (with only three months of training), I’ve moved to another city, I’ve travelled to America, I’ve been to lots of shows and seen lots of sights, I’ve set up my own business, and I’ve created an app that has sold thousands – and now comes pre-installed on some phones in India. And at the same time I’ve had some really great ‘small moments’: I’ve loved seeing my favourite comic hero Iron Man be adapted for the big screen, I’ve enjoyed testing the first virtual reality headset and seeing the moon through a telescope for the first time, and I was ecstatic to find that stores in the UK started selling Lucky Charms again. Many of my best experiences when I was younger also had nothing to do with alcohol: like winning a bodybuilding contest when I was 16, going on X-Factor or graduating for instance. I’ve been mugged, I’ve lost loved ones, and I’ve had arguments. But I don’t think anyone would accuse me of not having lived.
Go Forth… And Live!
My aim here isn’t to brag, but rather to demonstrate that ‘partying’ and ‘sleeping around’ are not the only ways to live an enriched life – in fact if anything they are the opposite, driven by the ‘Thanatos’ instinct for ego-destruction as described by Freud. When you’re drunk out of your mind your brain is addled and you can forget all your worries – but you are not living. And when you sleep with someone you don’t know, you can give yourself completely to them and escape into bliss for a moment – but bragging to your friends the next day will never feel quite as rewarding as you think it should.
So no – you shouldn’t spend all your time behind a desk in order to feel like you are ‘living’, but nor should you spend your whole time spending huge amounts of cash on drinks that are only going to damage your brain and make you sick the next day; or chatting up strangers who you will never contact again. Create things that you are proud of, progress your career and your body, build lasting relationships, see the world, and remember the little things – that is what will give you peace in your twilight years.