You’d think that the smart way to life would be to anticipate a short life and an early end. Then, if you end up living longer than expected, it’s just the frosting on the cake.
I was listening recently to a story about a famous intellectual which seemed to assume the same. Ever since he was a little child, a relative recalled, he’d believe he was going to die an early death and would need to accomplish something important without delay.
I feel like something along those lines was implicitly what I was assuming for almost the first few decades of my life. Getting married, and even more so having children, were probably the factors that have been most important in changing the approach for me, to thinking more in terms of decades rather than years. I now wish I would have made the change long before.
It seems to me that living as if life will be short will bring many activities that are not wise for a long life. You’ll burn yourself out. You’ll focus on the short term benefits. You’ll be careless with friendships and health and career and more.
Living as if life will be long, on the other hand, seems more likely even in the short term to lead to positive outcomes. The sorts of good habits and smart investment of time and effort that come with a life lived in view of a long future, will really not seem foolish or blameworthy in a life cut short.
Living as if life will be short can be presented as a noble or realistic stance, but it is hard for it not to become an excuse for vice.
Living as if life will be long might seem presumptuous or even, in a sense, short-sighted, but it holds us accountable for today’s decisions in a way that is not relevant for the person who anticipates slipping away into eternity at a young age.
We have a choice, and although in my case the realization is of embarrassingly recent provenance, the better choice should really be pretty clear to see.