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Live each day like your 39,999th
On the problem with "living each day like it's your last"
Certain pieces of advice, through repetition and familiarity, gain a veneer of respectability they don't deserve. "Live each day as if it were your last" has been said so often it is treated like a profundity. And it has a certain pedigree, through Horace's "Carpe diem" and Seneca's "The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time."
■ But it is flawed advice, both on its literal surface and deeper down. If a person were literally to live each day as if it were the last, then no plans would be needed for tomorrow: Forget paying the mortgage or flossing your teeth. Living each day like that would be its own brand of insanity.
■ Deeper down, it remains faulty advice. A dying grudge is nothing but deadweight, but there are plenty of disagreements and frustrations that deserve time and healing. To tell someone to forgive and forget prematurely (merely because this day could be their last) may well be to deprive them of a healthy and reasonable process of healing without being hurried. Achieving emotional and psychological balance in life -- under the assumption that you probably won't die tomorrow -- is more likely to pay off in total life satisfaction than rushing to balance the metaphorical books on life before going to bed each night.
■ It's all too easy to put too much weight on how things end, rather than on the whole of the experience. It's a temptation within everything from vacations to relationships, and most certainly with how we treat life itself: The focus on how a person died ("peacefully in her sleep" or "after his brave fight with cancer") often takes up far too much of the obituary or the eulogy in relation to how they lived.
■ Rather than over-valuing the end, perhaps the better advice would be to "Leave nothing to the custody of your last day". It's true that everyone will have a last day, and that most of us won't actually know when that day will be. It could come as a surprise tomorrow, or it could take 111 years. But if it's the latter, that means living through more than 40,000 days -- meaning that 39,999 of them were lived as part of a continuum, each of which was an opportunity to do something good, even if it wasn't fully "seized".
■ Every person is a work in progress, as is every relationship and most every worthwhile project. The best advice isn't to attack each day with the spontaneity of the very last, but to see each one as a step towards doing the things that shouldn't be entrusted only to the end. We already endure too many temptations to put too much weight on the finish.