This Chart Measures Your Life — and it Doesn’t Look Good

Chad Williams  in Medium 

I’m supposed to live less than 4000 weeks, and each one breezes by

I read an article from Bloomberg titled “A Typical American Life, Week by Week”. The piece shows the chart below and then goes on to analyze the percentages these phases of your life take up, and how retirement is longer than people plan for, blah blah blah on and on it goes.

The whole time I’m just thinking: holy crap. Life is short.

Image Source: Bloomberg

Is this really all there is?

  1. Early Years
  2. Elementary School
  3. Middle School
  4. High School
  5. College
  6. Career/Graduate School
  7. Retirement

Seven phases of my life? I’m a dude. That means I get less than 4,000 weeks in this life. The last two weeks alone feel like they’ve flown by.

I’m prone to existentialism and cosmic claustrophobia when I think about how minuscule the span of our lives is.

How can we make our lives worth more than a collection of weeks easily condensed into a chart and colour-coded?

I’ve struggled with this question for a long time, and maybe there isn’t a satisfactory answer for everybody. But there are universal principles for working towards happiness we can all apply.

Think About The Next Generation

Building up the next round of troops for the universe to assail is quite rewarding. This can come in many forms.

  • Caring for your family. Love your kids, cherish the moments you get with them, and instruct them carefully so they can be upholders of goodness and right as they enter into the world.
  • Leave the world better than how you found it. Accomplish something that will continue to impact people once you’re gone, no matter how small.
  • Mentor a young person. Children — yes even the crowd of high school graduates who preen their feathers counts as children — need guides. The world is a crazy place. Help someone learn to navigate. Be an ear for their troubles and triumphs, and teach them a valuable skill. Set a good example for them.

Help Others

If you want to get scientific: helping others is linked to heightened reactions in your brain that correlate with happiness.

If you want to get honest: true satisfaction comes from being useful to other people. From benefiting other people. It’s a great thing to be able to help someone.

  • Invest in your community: Support locally owned businesses. Volunteer at homeless shelters. Actually slow down and chat with a librarian for once. Every person you see outside is just as interesting as you. So have neighbours over for dinner and get to know them — you may not think having dinner with someone is helping them much, but having a good friend is a very big thing. Being part of a collective outside of your individual self is a powerful path towards meaning and satisfaction.
  • Make yourself uncomfortable: Doing something good is going to be inconvenient for you. This is true almost absolutely. So go out of your way to make time for a friend, meet someone new, or offer to take on the extra load at work.

Perfect Yourself

Most people want a partner to live out their lives with. Well, how are you so certain you’re good enough to be lived with? Maturing into your best self is not only beneficiary in attracting partners and friendships — it feels good.

Not in a self-centred way of wanting to be better than everyone else. Rather it springs from a love of life. A love of life means wanting everything to be the best it possibly can be; for everything to grow to its highest potential.

  • Be good at something: Sound easy? Get really good at something — become competent. It’s such a powerful thing, being competent. And once you’ve gotten good at something, become the best at it. There isn’t a person in this world who is incapable of being the best at something, there are simply those who don’t know it yet.
  • Be kind: This is harder than you might think. I don’t mean just to be kind to your friends and people it’s easy to be kind to. Be kind to those everyone else despises. Be kind to those who despise you. Do we dream of a world where everyone gets along? No better place to start than in your own conduct.
  • Make your bed every day: What I mean is to have your life in order, and keep it that way. If you have broken relationships, mend them. If your career path is tedious, stabilize it. If your house is messy, clean it. And if your bed is disorderly, make it.

I know lots of people look at our short life span and think that it indicates life has no meaning. I believe our finite amount of time on this earth should push us to seek out our meaning all the more.