There’s a website called 4000Saturdays and, among other things on the site, it contains a life calculator. You enter your birth date, and it calculates how many Saturdays you have lived and how many more you will live (if we take as given that 4000 Saturdays is the average number of Saturdays in a person’s life).
The website tells me I have about 2551 more Saturdays left to enjoy. Oh my God! Today, the day I chose to do this little calculation, is indeed, a Saturday, and a very dull one. I can’t live any more Saturdays like this! Life’s too short, 2551 Saturdays are not that much! I have to do something! So what do I do? I panic.
The whole website does this as a wakeup call. The guy behind this (Mark Desvaux, a coach) wants to inspire you, he doesn’t want to depress you. The results have, nonetheless, depressed me. After giving you the numbers, the website asks if you’re inspired or depressed, and when I hit the latter one, a document opened telling me why I shouldn’t be depressed—that I now have the gift of awareness. That is true and not true, at the same time. He has written a very nice piece on how the awareness of death makes you live better, and I couldn't agree more. But there’s also a depressing part in knowing that you have lived a lot of awful Saturdays, and you can’t undo that. Time doesn’t go back; neither can we.
So, even though when I saw the numbers, I was like “Yeah, I’m not doing this ever again,” the depressing truth is that I will do this again and again, because after a little while, you forget that time is limited. Also, your employer doesn’t really care that you don’t have that many Saturdays left. You’ll be given a lot of work anyway. And I can’t imagine someone saying, “But sir, I have only 3567 weeks left! How can I do this?” He’ll probably answer, “Well, that should be enough to finish your project then.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m totally pro-awareness (if there’s such a thing), but that doesn’t mean you can always change everything. You will still do some very meaningless things. And that’s ok, if you generally live life in a way you find meaningful, and therefore, won’t regret (too much). In our everyday lives, we tend to live in “bad faith,” as Sartre (1956) said. Death actually gives us an opportunity to turn to ourselves and ask: “Is this how I want to live my life?” So, some kind of freedom is being born. The freedom of choosing a life—my life.
I like that I read more and more articles and blog posts about how important life is. There’s only one thing I disagree with. Most people on the Internet are afraid that thinking about death is not helpful—that it just makes your heart black, and you should focus on living. Yes, focusing on life is a great thing, but I can’t figure out how you can separate this from our timely existence. We live dyingly, and this might be frightening, but if taken seriously, could change your life. I’m not a “don’t think about that and it’ll pass” person. I like being aware—I think it helps you construct meaning. Yalom (2008) wrote that “although the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death saves us." That, of course, doesn’t mean we should focus on our actual death but rather that seriously considering our mortality and the fact that our time is finite may lead to life-changing events and different life priorities.
They say you should practice what you preach but when confronted with a number of my supposed left days, I first felt depressed. Later, it energized me, but it took a lot of frowns to get there. But maybe this is how it goes, right? You can’t be too happy that you’re living to an end. Even so, make that life count.
Sartre, J. P. (1956). Being and nothingness. New York, NY: Philosophical Library.
Yalom, I. (2008). Staring at the sun. Overcoming the terror of death. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
-- Dimitra Athanasakou
Today's guest contributor, Dimitra Athanasakou, is a licensed psychologist and existential psychotherapist practicing in Athens, Greece.