“It is astonishing how much more anxious people are to lengthen life than to improve it . . . . hence the use of that present which we have is thrown away in idle schemes of how we shall abuse that future we may not have. No man can promise himself even fifty years of life, but any man may, if he please, live in the proportion of fifty years in forty.” ~ Charles Caleb Colton …
Nearly two centuries later and Charles is still spot on–most of us are more interested in lengthening the span of our lives than we are in improving the quality of them. And yet what good is having more days to live if we are not living those days to the fullest potential. As he further points out, a man can accomplish in the sum of forty years, the same as what he may in fifty years–all that is necessary is the desire and the passion for doing so. That goes to say that the quality of our day-to-day lives has very little to do with the longevity of them.
When we turn on the television or listen to the radio, how many advertisements are we bombarded with that pertain to extending our lives–miracle pills to consume, organizations and clubs to join, programs to enroll in, books to buy, new procedures for doctors to perform on us. The truth is that the majority of society is not trying all that hard to help us improve our lives or the ways in which we are living them, but rather working to get more of our money. Which should make us a bit more skeptical whenever others are offering us such things.
Perhaps we should be asking ourselves, “Is adding years to my life really what I should desire?–” for how we answer this question can help us to better understand our priorities in life and reassess the depth in which we are experiencing it. I suppose to answer that honestly, we must first ask ourselves how we actually define life. If we define it as simply existing–breathing and having a beating heart pushing blood through our veins and arteries–then there really is not much to living, and adding years to our lives extends such living. However, if life is much more than simply existing, then the quality of our lives is important to us, and should be something that is deeply rooted in our existence and reflected in our desires.
Charles is not saying that we are terrible, stupid, or selfish people for wanting to live longer—he understands that we are human and that naturally, we fear death. Instead, he is encouraging us to realize that there is a huge difference between making our lives longer and making our lives better. And perhaps more importantly, that we should not fear death; instead, we should fear to come to the end of our lives and to have regrets for all the things we left unsaid and undone, all the things we did not attempt that could have improved our lives and the lives of those around us.
Take some time to improve your quality of living today.
Questions to consider:
What are three ways that you could improve your life in the near future? What would it take to start working on them?
What is the difference to you between prolonging life and improving life?
Why is it so often so important to us to lengthen our number of days here on this planet?
For further thought:
“The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them; a man may live long yet live very little.” ~ Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, The Essays