Last time I mentioned the “fuzziness shield” that in normal perception leaves the actual limits of our lifespan a bit foggy. This is a useful mechanism. It protects people from worrying too much over the shortness of life and the inevitability of their own death. I also told how for depression patients this “fuzziness shield” often does not work anymore: depression often comes with a less fuzzy, more acute awareness of death awaiting us all. Such an awareness may be more realistic, but it is no blessing. For many of us, it brings a death fixation and death anxiety that can make depression only worse.
Unfortunately a broken “fuzziness shield” is difficult to repair. Once a more realistic death awareness has become part of our own usual mindset, it is almost impossible to undo. So maybe we should stop trying to fool ourselves by recreating some surrogate “fuzziness shield”. Maybe instead we should take our death awareness for what it is, but try to give that unpleasant condition a new and refreshing twist.
Perhaps it would help a little bit if we, knowing our lifespan is limited, try to see it for once from a slightly different perspective. This is exactly what I want to suggest here. We are used to measuring our lifespan in years. Once every arbitrary 365 days, we have a birthday. Would it make a difference if we were to measure our lifespan in days? This may sound weird, but in my experience, it does indeed make some difference.
By way of experiment, ask some of your friends one of these questions:
• Can you guess how many days you have lived since your birth?
• Can you guess how many days go in an average person’s life?
• Then can you estimate roughly how many days you may have left?
Chances are they cannot quickly guess the answers. Or if they do, their guesses may be way off the mark. Instead of making a quick guess, most people will frown deeply and need to do some calculating before coming up with an answer. If you think about this, isn’t it strange that many people have no idea how many days go in a life? In their own life? This is probably due to their “fuzziness shield” working a little too well. Our days are numbered, everyone’s days are numbered, but maybe people prefer to not be aware of the numbers.
If you do not mind, if your “fuzziness shield” is already broken anyway, then let’s do just that: take a brief look at the numbers. The average lifespan of people in the USA is 77.7 years. This means that on average (see footnote at bottom) our life does last about 28,000 days. In the simplified table below, you can check the average number of days left for someone of approximately your age:
|OUR LIFE EXPECTANCY IN DAYS:|
|Age||Days Lived||avg. Days Left|
For your depression or your death anxiety by itself, it will make little difference whether from your perspective you can expect roughly 30 more years, or roughly 11,000 more days. Whether you put it one way or the other, this will not change your awareness of life’s finiteness and death’s inevitability. Although for some people, somehow, 11,000 days may appear a little less frightening than 30 years: but this may just as well work the other way around. At least for myself, it makes no real difference.
But it does make some difference on another level. Looking at your lifespan from the customary habitual perspective of years tends to obscure the value, the uniqueness, the once-in-a-lifetime preciousness of each individual day. When you look at your lifespan from the fresh and unusual perspective of days, this suddenly can make you realize better how your days are ticking away one-by-one: how every single one of all those numbered days is unique and precious in its own right. How each new day has its own unique number that will never return, so you will have to make the best of that unique day.
Psychologically, this does a very nice trick: it makes you realize that in fact, every day may count as a birthday.
For me, today happens to be day #22,051. In my entire life, there is only one day with this number, and that is today! Do you want to know for yourself, just for fun? Enter your birth date here at the OnlineConversion website, and they will calculate exactly how many days you already survived (yes, including extra days for leap years). ;-)
• tip: Once in a while remind yourself that on the big calendar of your life, each day has its own number. So each day counts, each day is unique and once-in-a-lifetime, each day is as special as a birthday. Make the best of it, because that unique day will never return!
Image of broken fuzziness footnote: The drawing behind the broken blue fuzziness glass is “Call of Death” by Kathe Kollwitz, 1934.
Table footnote: It should be clear that the average numbers in the table are indeed average: in reality, they will greatly vary. To keep things simple, many important factors have not been taken into account. To name some:
• Average life expectancy in many countries is much lower, sometimes up to 30 years lower, than in the US and Europe.
• Generally, women live longer and men live less long than the average age.
• If your health was robust enough to make it to the age of 70+, you may also live longer than the average age of 77 (so the average “days left” number given for 75-year-olds should in fact be a little higher).
• If you are a chronic depression patient, statistically you have a smaller chance to make it to the average age of 77.