The secret to enjoying a long life

June 23, 2015

I may have stumbled across the secret to enjoying a long life. It has far more to do with how you live your life than it does living a long time.

Life shouldn’t be too easy. Which is unintuitive to many, because we spend a great deal of time making our lives easier. We pave over the wildernesses, domesticate or kill the earth’s animals, build industrial systems to bring us food, water, and light, and generally reshape the world into one of convenience and ease.

I’m not going to say that’s a bad thing. I don’t think we should return to the wilderness and live like our ancestors. They died young, and often violently. The modern world is better.

But a life devoid of challenge is meaningless. Note: I said challenge, not struggle. Struggling to put food on your family’s table is not life affirming. It’s life ending. Maybe not all at once, but by inches. That’s not the kind of challenge I’m talking about.

First, seek out something that fulfills you. It could be a job that challenges you. You could make it a point to learn as many useful skills as possible. You could constantly optimize how you raise your children, learning better how to bring them up to realize their own potential. You could try to make a positive effect on as many people’s lives as possible.

All of these are challenging, and in doing them, you’ll find that your days are more fulfilling. Obviously, right? But that’s not the only thing you’ll discover.

Human perception of time isn’t as predictable and regimented as we like to pretend. A second is not a second. The worth of that second depends on what you spend it doing. The more seconds you spend on worthwhile endeavors, the longer your life will feel. That dictates how we remember our lives.

I noticed this once I started writing full-time. I was surprised by how slowly the year seemed to be passing. Not in a bad way—I was having a blast! I’ve done so many things, and spent a great deal of time working to bring you more stories to enjoy. Each day passes quickly, but it feels like the year is passing by much more slowly.

It’s because I’ve been doing interesting things, and working on interesting challenges, that the days no longer melt together. Once upon a time, when I had my boring corporate job, each day was an endless series of crises and busywork. Not all corporate jobs are like this, certainly—but mine was. The days would go slooooowly, but once I got home, I would have nothing worth remembering the day’s work by. Soon months blurred together as my life slipped away.

No longer. When you’re engaged in worthwhile work that challenges you, you’re gloriously present all the time. It’s more difficult than the path of least resistance, but it leaves you with a life worth remembering. Your seconds will be better spent, and in the final accounting, you’ll enjoy more of your life for having pursued worthy challenges—and your life will feel longer as a result. Longer, and much happier.

Find challenges worth tackling, and soon your years will be packed with so many adventures, it will be like you’ve lived four rich lives, when most people don’t even live one.

Hugh Howey mentioned something similar in a recent post:

So my revelation … was this: The way to make a life feel long was a combination of newness and danger. Seeking danger seemed like a bad idea — more a recipe for a shortened life than a perceived longer one. But what about newness? I decided to explore this further.

I agree. When each day is a new challenge, something that taxes you, tests you, and forces you to give your all to succeed, your life is enriched and strengthened. There’s a danger to it, too, though not the kind that will leave you bloody and broken. The danger might be mostly in our minds—of financial collapse, of social ostracization, of personal shame, or missed opportunity—but that sharpens the senses and focuses the mind even so.

Those are the kinds of challenges you should seek out. They’ll give you a better life, to be sure, and a longer one as well. And a little newness once in a while helps as well.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

2 Comments

  1. Reply

    Kid (kinda outgrew that one fast)

    As a person who thrives off of competition, I definitely agree with this. I like to set my goals just higher than I think I am capable of achieving, so that I never become stagnant in my progress. Everything is more memorable when there is struggle… We remember hardship more than the easy times, so I find I get my happiness out of the competition, and the struggle through the challenges I face, or create for myself to overcome.

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      And the icing on the cake? The easy times are all the more enjoyable when they’re well-earned.

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