Life is Brief

Eliot in 1934

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying.
~ T. S. Eliot

I came across the interesting visuals found below—which convey the brevity of a human life—at the blog waitbutwhy.com. Some may find them depressing. Perhaps they enjoy their lives and don’t want to contemplate their brevity, or maybe they detest their lives and realize how little time they have to change them. Others may find the visuals uplifting. Perhaps they help them realize a life is precious and shouldn’t be wasted, or maybe they find consolation that some suffering they endure is not interminable. Whether you find the visuals depressing or uplifting, they communicate the reality of the brevity of a human life. So remember life is short. Enjoy it and try to help others or your time has been wasted. Here are the visuals.

A long human life in years.

A Human Life in Years

A long human life in months.

A long human life in weeks.

Each row of weeks makes up one year. That’s how many weeks it takes to turn a newborn into a 90-year-old. It feels like our lives are made up of a countless number of weeks. But there they are—fully countable—staring you in the face.

Before we discuss things further, let’s look at how a typical American spends their weeks:

American Life in Weeks

Conclusion – Well there it is; that’s your brief life. You may think that having 20 or 40 or 60 years to live is a long time, but that’s only 240 or 480 or 720 months. And a month goes by quickly. Enjoy your life while you can and help others. If you do you will have few regrets.

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12 thoughts on “Life is Brief

  1. ”Enjoy it and try to help others or your time has been wasted.”.

    I love this, so much sense packed in a few words. We both know the topic is immense, but the above words are like the ‘concentrated juice’ of the best that can be distilled from the many views about the topic.

    I am 49, and yet for several years life has been unfolding before me at breakneck speed. Maybe it’s because we are aware of that fabric of reality, that we are fully aware of it, while most people try not to think of it, which probably creates the illusion that life is long or never ending.

    Believe it or not, I am often thinking: ‘I am feeling what John G. Messerly, the philosopher, is feeling’. It hits me.

    ”At first, we see a never ending path before us. But then, we realize how short the path has been!’. – Schopenhauer

  2. I think that one of the few consolations we have, Dr Messerly, is that we have done all this powerful deliberations. Many will not, and reach ‘the summit’, as Schopenhauer called it, in a state of ignorant awareness, as little more than children: they have no clue what to make of it. My father is 77, I know he feels like he’s on death row, and he’s my father and I love him, but his thoughts about mortality are empty, ignorant, and frankly pathetic. S explained that people like this could have never done otherwise: to them, unless the topic falls on themselves, everything else is utterly uninteresting.

    How pathetic. Instead, I am proud of having followed the advice of Epictetus and the other Stoics: ‘think of death every day’. Now I am NOT going to think about it every MOMENT of the day (that would be too depressing! Which is where the first part of your advice comes in ‘ -enjoy it- ‘, ) but I think of it at least once a day.

    And frankly, I hope not to reach the age of 90, too me this would be too long, hopefully I’ll bow out sooner 🙂

  3. Pretty stark. My career seemed much longer even though it was thirty and out. Learned some valuable lessons like don’t get too wrapped in politics… and don’t
    imagine there are more opportunities than there really are. Came to philosophy, late in life. Autodidacticly. It is stimulating to interact with people, for whom thinking is a worthwhile activity rather than an onerous chore. Have discovered why truth and reality is enigma: it does change, over time and we do make it up as we go. In another sense, one person’s reality is another’s fantasy land. Working on other problems as well…

  4. Precisely because life is so brief–and many of us recognize that– we often are motivated to leave a legacy, leave a mark. This may take many forms. You join a group that will continue after you’re gone and by associating with that collective, you live on, as with a religious congregation, or a baseball team, or a political movement. You create a lasting work of art, music, or literature; you build a building; you write a book.

    Because life is so brief, we often are motivated to build for the future. You dedicate your efforts to fighting climate change, so your kids and grandkids will inhabit a livable world; you conduct medical research, so future generations don’t suffer any number of diseases; you donate to a cause, to aid its ongoing impact.

    These are two of the human drives that provide work meaning and motivate us. These and others are highlighted in
    “Wellsprings of Work”
    ‘Surprising Sources of Meaning and Motivation in Work’
    http://www.WellspringsofWork.com

  5. thanks as always Mr. Halpern. Some of what you say reminds me of Will Durant who wrote:

    “If we think of ourselves as part of a living … group, we shall find life a little fuller … For to give life a meaning one must have a purpose larger and more enduring than one’s self.

    If … a thing has significance only through its relation as part to a larger whole, then, though we cannot give a metaphysical and universal meaning to all life in general, we can say of any life in the particular that its meaning lies in its relation to something larger than itself … ask the father of sons and daughters “What is the meaning of life?” and he will answer you very simply: “Feeding our family.”

  6. ”I love this, so much sense packed in a few words.”.

    I meant I loved the whole essay, not just the sentence I quoted, sorry 🙂

    ”If I can stay healthy until I’m 100 I’m all in.”.

    Exactly, exactly. That’s really what I meant, i.e. I don’t want to reach the age of 90, unless I am healthy. If one is healthy, then ”everything is fine. More or less.”, as Derren Brown says 🙂

  7. Schopenhauer said that most people have unlimited desires but the unhealthy only one … to be healty.

  8. If one were to make unlimited lifespan the first priority, they’d have a shot at it; no matter how remote.
    But the priority would have to come before nation, family, friends—everything. Otherwise, no chance.

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