If you were given a button that tells you exactly when you are going to die, would you push it?
My vote is yes. Even if the information is painful, I’d like to know what could be the single most valuable factor in altering my immediate future. To illustrate, let’s take the following scenarios:
1) The hopeful and most likely scenario: I die ~ 50 years from now. Daily life doesn’t change at all. Business as usual.
2) Still very possible: I die ~ 25 years from now. Daily life remains the same, but future plans are altered. I consider not having kids or having them immediately. Vacations are taken more readily. Liquidate 401k. Why save for retirement?
3) I have ~ 10 years to live. Huge changes are made. Travel much more frequently. Put bucket list in full effect. Skew goals toward immediate changes and influence. Commit more time to writing. Hold off on the little ones.
4) I have ~ 1 year left. Drop everything except two or three activities: write a book, visit Paris, eat at Noma. Spend more time with closest loved ones. Abandon all long term plans.
The closer we get to our expected death, the more important the information becomes. The most effective strategy for action packed living and increased quality of life is when we assume we have little time to live. It seems the optimal course of action is to live our daily lives as if we only have five years left. (This still allows for long terms goals: kids, retirement, etc).
Remember the semester long homework assignment your teacher gave you? Almost everyone does two things:
1) Assumes the assignment must be hard because they give you so long to complete it
2) Doesn’t start working on it until the last week
When we deal with abstract amounts of time we become overwhelmed. As a result we under perform. We believe that it’s too hard to realize our goals. And like the long term project, we procrastinate until there is no time left.
Time is our most precious commodity. I would love to know when I’m going to run out. In fact, I would propose a trade: Give away a fraction of the time I have left in exchange for the information I want. That is, of course, assuming I still have time left to give. ♠