How do you make the most of whatever you have? It’s not an insignificant question, but not exactly a new one either. Or is it? When it comes to making the most of our years, it actually is. Consider this: A person turning 65 today can reasonably expect to reach their 84th birthday and beyond, while in 1950, the average person who reached 65 was barely around past their 70th!
Time remains our most precious resource, to be sure. After all, you can make more money, more friends, more love. But we generally cannot make more time. Still, advances in medicine and technology have created a nation of people with about a decade-and-a-half more time than they had, on average, a mere half-century ago.
Instead of picturing how long you expect to live and then adding a couple decades to it, try this: Imagine having 20 years to fill right now.
Now the question is what to do with that time. How do we widen our thinking beyond just the ongoing fight against disease and physical suffering (the fight for quantity of life) to take on the opportunity/challenge of filling our longer lives with increased meaning? That is, the fight for quality of life.
There’s no one right answer, but the six ideas listed in author Marc Freedman’s recent Wall Street Journal piece are pretty interesting. The article, “How to Make the Most of Longer Lives,” is filled with interesting analysis and cool charts, but the upshot is:
- Think about how to make transitions between life phases smooth and gradual,
- Create and avail ourselves of “design schools for the second half of life,”
- Invest time and thought in how to finance your longevity,
- Build new and better intergenerational bridges,
- Incentivize the best and brightest to focus on innovating for our aging years,
- Name this new phase of life, because naming is claiming.
I’m especially struck by Freedman’s careful attention to both material and psychological-spiritual needs. In other words, the care of our whole selves remains as important as ever in later life, and attending to the one actually enhances our ability to attend to the other.
Ultimately, I wonder if we wouldn’t all benefit from asking ourselves what we’d do if we suddenly found ourselves with 20 extra years to live. I know there are no guarantees and that, as a generation, we feel more rushed than ever. So it’s hard to imagine having any “extra” time at all, let alone 20 years’ worth.
But perhaps that’s the key. Instead of picturing how long you expect to live and then adding a couple decades to it, try this: Imagine having 20 years to fill right now. What would you do? Perhaps now’s the time to get started on some of those ideas. Perhaps you should do them now because you’re more likely to have plenty of tomorrows to attend to all the other “stuff” that’s not on your initial list.
This is no naive plea for the wisdom of narcissism, i.e., abandoning all obligations and responsibilities in favor of whatever we want in the moment. It’s simply an invitation to budget our time with a presumption of greater abundance – an invitation to celebrate today those things we most enjoy, because we probably have more tomorrows (more than we imagine) for the things we don’t.
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.