Each day is the sum of hundreds of moments. Waking up. Rolling out of bed and into the shower. Searching for your keys. Forgetting the name of the person you met last night. These moments — some mundane, some memorable — define our lives and shape our perspective on the world around us.
Imagine at the end of your life, you had to relive each of these individual moments as a single moment — grouped by common qualities. Neuroscientist and writer, David Eagleman, posed this thought in his work Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives. Here it is, in video and text:
You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet.
You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it’s agony-free for the rest of your afterlife.
But that doesn't mean it’s always pleasant. You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line. Two years of boredom: staring out a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal. One year reading books. Your eyes hurt, and you itch, because you can't take a shower until it’s your time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower.
Two weeks wondering what happens when you die. One minute realizing your body is falling. Seventy-seven hours of confusion. One hour realizing you've forgotten someone’s name. Three weeks realizing you are wrong. Two days lying. Six weeks waiting for a green light. Seven hours vomiting. Fourteen minutes experiencing pure joy. Three months doing laundry. Fifteen hours writing your signature. Two days tying shoelaces. Sixty-seven days of heartbreak. Five weeks driving lost. Three days calculating restaurant tips. Fifty-one days deciding what to wear. Nine days pretending you know what is being talked about. Two weeks counting money. Eighteen days staring into the refrigerator. Thirty-four days longing. Six months watching commercials.
Four weeks sitting in thought, wondering if there is something better you could be doing with your time. Three years swallowing food. Five days working buttons and zippers. Four minutes wondering what your life would be like if you reshuffled the order of events.
In this part of the afterlife, you imagine something analogous to your Earthly life, and the thought is blissful: a life where episodes are split into tiny swallowable pieces, where moments do not endure, where one experiences the joy of jumping from one event to the next like a child hopping from spot to spot on the burning sand.
This leads to an interesting question. How might we pursue a life worth reliving?
What if you could exchange the three days calculating restaurant tips for a few more days of pure joy? Or transfer six months of watching commercials to more time reading books?
If you view the choices you make from the perspective of repeating similar moments together at the end of life, how would you change the way you're living?
Take a moment to give this some thought. What would you want to see more of at the end of your life?
For me, the answer is creative output. I want to put more things out into the world through drawing, writing, painting, making, building, teaching, speaking...
You get the picture. I want to build my creative confidence.
How am I going to do this? Start small. Habits form from small adjustments in your daily routine. Each day, for the next thirty days, I’m going to ship something. It could be a Medium post, a picture, a drawing, or literally shipping a letter to a friend.
Give it a try for yourself. Spend the next thirty days taking on a new challenge. If you don’t think you have the time, just think of it as a trade for ‘four weeks sitting in thought, wondering if there is something better you could be doing with your time.’