One day, you will die. And so, there will be a last time that you do anything. You will have a last breath. It is interesting to think whether you will die suddenly, on an inhale, or slowly, on an exhale. And what will be your last thought? If you could choose, what would it be?
What are the things you do every day? What are the things that you take for granted? And what will be the last time you do them? The last time you eat breakfast. The last time you take a shower. The last time you put on your shoes. The last time you say goodbye to your loved ones.
But long before you die, you will also cease to do things. There will be the last time that you eat ice cream, that you say goodbye to your mother, that you hug your brother, that you swim in the ocean.
Often, these last times go by and we don’t know that they are the last times, we can only see that retrospectively. For many years when I was a teenager, there were long lazy summers where I would go to the local park and play football with my friends who lived on the same street as me.
There was the last time when I went to play football, and I can’t remember that day, and for sure I was not aware that this was the last time that we would all be together and that we would be running around on the grass and sweating while chasing after a ball.
There was a last time that my mother picked me up in her arms. I don’t remember this, perhaps she does. Now I am too heavy (and old!) for this.
A psychological technique to tease more meaning and nuance from the fiber of life is to live as if this was your last day on earth. This does not mean what you may think it means. In modern times, living as if it’s your last day may be considered an invitation to do all the things that you would normally not do because of the long-term consequences.
But, what I am talking about here is more in line with the Stoic advice of living as if each day was your last. This means paying attention to experience. Be mindful of your actions and their consequences. To be kind to others, because you never know when it will be the last time you see them.
It means to love deeply and fully because you never know when it will be the last time you are able to do so.
So, live each day as if it was your last. And when the last day comes, you will have lived a good life.
Sometimes we are lucky, and we do actually know when something will be the last time. These are often highly emotional or memorable times. The last dinner at a restaurant on the night it closes, saying goodbye to a lover when you are moving to the other side of the world, the last day at school before graduation, and so on.
Those times feel unique, they feel different. But, actually, life can always be like this. Whenever you say goodbye to someone, take a second or two to consider that this may be the last time you see them and appreciate the time that you have spent with them.
We can flip this, and also apply it to things that we do not like. Perhaps you don’t like studying for a particular exam or working on a specific work assignment. Don’t worry, there will also be the last time you will need to do that as well.
This enables us to continue and finish those necessary but perhaps unpleasant parts of life that are required to function within a society and achieve our larger and longer-term goals. It is also possible, in a strange way, that you will miss the things that you find difficult and unpleasant now. You’ll look back with fascination about how you were able to undertake the struggles required to climb that particular mountain.
In summary, life is made up of a series of lasts and firsts. The key is to be mindful of both, and to appreciate each moment for what it is: either a new beginning or the closing of a chapter. Embrace change, and don’t be afraid to say goodbye.
The whole point is not to take things for granted, regardless if those are beautiful moments or mundane everyday happenings. This means that instead of just trying to get through life, we truly experience the moment-to-moment.
Seneca points out that life is long, but only if we know how to live. If we waste time, if we take it for granted, then life is tragically short. An interesting thought experiment is to try and visualize where you are in your life compared to your likely age of death.
You can draw a grid with 52 squares across, each representing a week, and then keep going down 80 to 90 times. That’s a long human life. Shade in all the squares that you have already lived, and it will dawn on your how little time you likely have left. This is not meant to depress us, but rather to remind us that time is precious and we should make the most of it
A single week is a surprisingly large portion of a life, and yet it can sometimes feel that the weeks are flying by.
I have noticed that the fresh experiences that travel provide can help to put one in that correct mindset because it is easier to appreciate novel things than on the same street that you have been walking down since childhood.
I have single weeks or months where I have more memories and appreciation than some entire years of my life because I was in highly unusual places doing new and interesting things. But, this is not sustainable in the long term, however good a hack it is in the short term to put you in the right frame of mind.
It is interesting how the perspective of time changes as we get older. When you are young, a week can feel like an eternity. It is hard to believe that there was ever a time when a day seemed long. Time seems to speed up the older we get, and this has been backed up by research.
One theory posits that this is because, when we are children, our lives are relatively uneventful compared to later on. There are more new experiences and therefore more opportunities for learning, and time seems to slow down as a result.
As we age, we have already experienced most things that life has to offer and so there are fewer opportunities for learning and time appears to speed up.
This is why it is so important to make the most of our time, and not take it for granted. We should always be learning and trying new things so that we can keep time moving slowly and enjoy every moment.
We must be able to gain enjoyment and appreciation of life regardless of what is or isn’t happening around us, and regardless of where we are located.
And the way to do this is to develop our faculties of attention. Sometimes you may be bored, and this is actually a good thing. Don’t take your phone out, but just look around. Notice, in detail, the peculiarities of your surroundings. See what you’ve missed. Notice the thoughts that appear in your head — why are they appearing?
It is only by learning to pay attention that we can hope to make the most of our time, and appreciate the beauty in every moment.