Two Weird But Important Life Thought Experiments

One of the ways I like to slice and dice life is to not just imagine my inevitable demise (old news, this keen Memento Mori interest of mine that keeps me appreciative of every day I wake up not dead), but to imagine bizarre scenarios that shed light on the ways I’m actually spending the days I’m still alive. And now you get to come along with me into this dark, morbid alley… and emerge unscathed… motivated to live a life with a little more life in it. Let’s do this! (*Insert nervous laughter here*)

Thought Experiment #1: Nietzsche’s Eternal Return

What if you were destined to live your life as you’ve lived it — from the instant you were born, up until this riveting moment of reading this article — again and again for all of eternity? Nietzsche wrote about this mighty eternal recurrence idea in 1883:

What if some day or night, a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!” Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are, or perhaps crush you.

Nietzsche's MustacheHere’s the real question: does the idea of living your life on eternal repeat — whether it’s 27 years thus far or 72 years — feel like a divine gift? Or does it feel like a punishment that would surely crush you by the second cycle? Maybe it makes you feel indifferent, which is surely the most insidious problem of all (because Indifference is a close cousin to Mediocrity and a next-door neighbor to Settling, and you deserve better than those unsavory feelings, friend).

Thought Experiment #2: The Groundhog Day of Your Life

This thought experiment is more immediate than Nietzsche’s vision of living your life as you know it on repeat. What if you were destined to live yesterday in an infinite loop? From your morning bowl of Raisin Bran to the mundane moments of clipping your toenails and renewing your AAA membership, to the work highs and lows, to the leftover chicken supreme for dinner and the doom-scrolling before bed? Does the idea of living yesterday all over again — Bill Murray Groundhog Day style — sound divine or crushing?

(Relevant newsflash: Groundhog Day came and went last week, and we’re fucked. The little rodent saw his shadow so we’re in for six more weeks of slush. Thankfully gluten free Oreos hit the stores so I’m okay with an extended double stuff hibernation.)

So now what?

These thought experiments are designed to highlight where we might be getting a wee bit squander-ish with our lives.

Most of us cringe at the idea of living just yesterday again and again for eternity, because those 24 hours flew by in a hurry, didn’t they, and we didn’t know we needed to stuff them with appreciable meaning, fun, and nachos with extra cheese worth enjoying forever, did we?

And yet that’s the point. We are responsible for a vast majority of our experience of being alive. To be fair, we can’t possibly live each day as though it’s our last — it would be exhausting and impossible to craft near-perfect days worth repeating for our own lifelong Groundhog Days. We also can’t avoid the lows that life lobs our way, like getting sacked, hacked, dumped, or sick. But we can be even just 12% more intentional with our days and months and years. We can design them to include more things that matter, more things that bring us joy, more things that make us laugh, more things that showcase our talents, more things that taste and smell great (OREOS), more connections to people we love/ like/ find amusing, more things that make us feel alive.

If yesterday was a winning day that you’d be delighted to repeat ad nauseum, good for you. Keep having days like that and they’ll add up to a live you’ve loved when the Grim Reaper calls it curtains on you… a life you’d be pleased to repeat in Nietzsche’s eternal return.

If yesterday was a blur or a bust that you’d be crushed to repeat, and the idea of living your life again feels like being forced to watch a bad movie in a loop (or just clips of Keanu Reeves acting), think about that 12% point. Take a look at your day ahead and make one thing happen that brings a smile to your face. Take a look at your week ahead and build in one thing to look forward to. And do that on repeat… simply picking one thing every day and week. It all adds up, and makes for a highly repeatable life to call your own.

Jodi Wellman

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