How a reassessment of our assumptions can lead to a happier life.

Story time

Last weekend, I spent a day out in the mountains with Max H., and it was a much needed break away from work and a good mental reset given all that happened during that week. One of those things that’s happened is the passing of a senior instructor named David. This was a pretty significant event for Max and I (and also a lot of our friends who went through the commerce program at the University of Calgary) as David was truly one of those people who made the most of his life, and in doing so, influenced our lives. I could go on about his legacy and how much his presence changed the lives of so many students, but I also know I wouldn’t do him justice (and Max already did a good job at this in his Humans of UCalgary post ). For now, I will just speak to my personal experiences with him.

You can’t control death

For the most part, the way we die is not something we can control. It can happen for any number of potential unforeseen reasons. Further, what’s most uncontrollable is the timeline of when it happens. However, what we CAN control is how we use the time we have right now while we are alive. David was really good at choosing how to spend his time wisely, doing things he was genuinely passionate about. David died doing something he was genuinely passionate about. I think very few people have that opportunity.

Why do people do things they don’t want to do?

If one of the only things we can control is how we choose to spend our time, why do so many people choose to spend their time this way? The answer to this goes back to ancient human history.

Where do you draw the line?

Like I mentioned above, there are pros and cons to this skill that humans have developed. The question of the day is — how much time should you allocate sacrificing today to potentially benefit tomorrow, compared to just benefitting today knowing you will incur the expense again tomorrow? I believe too many people on this earth right now spend too much time putting themselves through misery today with the hope that it will pay off in the future. In my discussion with Max, we noticed that such people typically subconsciously operate under two assumptions which feed into their decision to live life this way.

Assumption 1 — “I will live a long life”

The first assumption that many of us hold which allows us to justify putting ourselves through tough times today for the benefit of tomorrow is that we will be alive in that future to be able to reap the rewards we are working so hard for today.

Assumption 2 — “Today was guaranteed”

It seems like a common experience for people to not know what they want out of life. I think many people feel this way every so often, myself included. It becomes difficult to really picture out how you’d like your life to look like in a couple years. Furthermore, without that vision for where you want to end up and the things you want to do, it becomes difficult to assess whether or not to make certain decisions in a given day.

“I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory When’s it gonna get me?
In my sleep, seven feet ahead of me?
If I see it comin’, do I run or do I let it be?
Is it like a beat without a melody?
See, I never thought I’d live past twenty
Where I come from some get half as many
Ask anybody why we livin’ fast and we laugh, reach for a flask. We have to make this moment last, that’s plenty”

This are some of the lines in My Shot, probably one of the most iconic songs in the show. Hamilton knew that every day he lived was another day he shouldn’t have been alive, and so he knew he had to make the most of it. Furthermore, knowing this information also allowed him to guide his every step towards making a better future for everyone in his nation. He didn’t want anyone else to face the struggles he faced as a kid, so he did everything in his power to bring the quality of life in America up.

Risk based decisions

The two assumptions I’ve outlined above impact the decisions we make regarding how we spend our time every day. At the end of the day, both of the assumptions are going to be assumptions for the rest of our lives. This means, any decision we make in life regarding how we spend our time is ultimately a risk based decision. The risk is that we could be wrong. But should that stop us from making the decisions? No!

Conclusion

At the end of the day, our assumptions are all arbitrary and there is no right way to set our assumptions — it’s always going to be a guess as to when we will die, or as to if we should’ve died before. Regardless of what assumptions you choose, I believe being aware of your assumptions allows you to remind yourself that we should take our time on this earth very seriously, because the one thing we do know for certain is that we will die eventually.

“You will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things that you don’t like doing. Which is stupid!

Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than to have a long life spent in a miserable way.”

— Alan Watts

A collection of thoughts, stories, and notes-to-self. I was too lazy to buy a real journal so here I am.

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