Recently I had the good fortune to surpass my 13,000th day. It's a big deal. But I know what you're thinking: Who actually counts their days? What's the point of that? What's going on here?
All good questions.
But let's answer a more basic question first: How do you discover your own day?
The easiest way is to use a convenient website called Timeanddate.com. The website has a number of calculators and you'll need the "Date to Date Calculator." Just enter your birthday as the Start Date and click "Today" for the End Date then calculate. You'll receive a result in days, years, and even smaller units like hours, minutes, and seconds. It's kind of wild when you first discover just how many days you've been around.
I tracked my days for years until I came across a wonderful little book on exactly this subject called "20,000 Days and Counting" by Robert D. Smith. It's a quick read at barely 150 pages, and Smith presents lesson after lesson on this subject:
- "What am I doing that will count two hundred years from now? For eternity?"
- "If you were transported one year into the future, looking back, how would you advise yourself right now?"
- "We all have an amazing ability to overlook the intensity of our everyday lives. We get wrapped up in what we mistakenly call the mundane, the grind, the everydayness of life."
- "It is so easy to take my relationships for granted. Counting my days reminds me of how precious they are."
- "Applaud everyone you can today. Step up and stand up! Yell loud and long. Celebrate who they are and who they are becoming."
- "Never forget the people who count in your life - not just parents but the other important people as well: teachers, mentors, spouses, friends, and more. Never forget what they've done for you. Honor them visibly. Let them know they matter and are critical to your life. Always."
- Quoting the Bible: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."
- "Your life will take place whether you have a plan or not, so have a plan. Choose one."
- "Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today. - James Dean, American Actor, lived exactly 9,000 days"
- "I know I am creating a life book. Today is but a chapter - maybe even just as few paragraphs. Each sentence I write with on-purpose intention. We all dream. But not equally. To make your dreams possible, act on them with open eyes."
- "There is no thought that will purge your priorities of worthless and worldly tastes like that of your impending death. Ponder the kind of life you would like to look back on when you come to die. There is enormous wisdom in such thoughts and meditation... It is essential to understand that you have been dying since the day you were born."
For my part, there are three ways I tend to think about my daily number: It helps me remember the past. It helps me appreciate the present. And it makes me aware of the end.
The Chapters of Life
I share Smith's analogy that life is a book. And I set each chapter as 1,000 days, nearly 3 years. It's a long enough period where big changes can happen both in the world and your own life. And it's helpful to take a look back over those periods.
You can calculate these easily using Timeanddate.com as well using another page, their Date Calculator:
Set the start date as your birthday. Then "Add" 1000 days. Use the "Repeat" checkbox to easily calculate all of them in one go. For instance, if you know from earlier that you are 10,000 days old - then you would repeat the calculation "10" times. When you have all of the results, take a look at each of the dates:
- Where were you in your life during those dates?
- Who were the people you knew? What were your relationships like?
- What were your accomplishments? What were your challenges?
- If you could go back 1,000 days, 2,000 days, or more - what would you tell yourself? What have you learned?
- If each of those periods was a chapter, what would be the chapter's title?
Then adjust the calculation to add more 1,000 day periods going into the future - more chapters. What do you think will happen in these new chapters? What do you want to happen? What dramatic twists occurred in the previous chapters that will totally change the next chapters? What trends, begun in earlier chapters, will grow stronger in the future?
Ask these questions of someone that you know. You'll be surprised how many new things you'll learn about your friends & family by asking them about specific periods of their lives.
If your life is a book, take the time to occasionally re-read the current draft, and to actively write the rest of it.
Everyday is a Unique Gift
It sounds obvious to say this, but each of your days has an individual number. And it is a reminder that each of your days is individually unique. You only ever get one of today. This particular sunrise & sunset, this commute to and from the office, this particular combination of weather, this common everyday time with your coworkers, family, and friends - these specific moments will happen just once in your entire life.
All of us get caught up in the mundane, what Smith called the "everydayness of life." And we breeze through existence rarely taking moments to just marvel at the things going on around us. Understand deeply that you only ever get one of this moment. There's something unique and special about each day, when you take the time to see it. Life is an amazing miracle. There's nothing mundane or routine about it.
Start at the End, Then Work Backwards
One reason it's so difficult to think about this is because it's impossible to think about our daily number without also thinking about the finite nature of our numbers.
Our day counter has been counting up since we were born, but a second, invisible, day counter has also been counting down. Invisible counters with digits measured in thousands, hundreds, or even dozens.
One day our days will run out. One day we all come to our end. And that's a tough thing to consider. But it's important to think about occasionally because nothing focuses the mind better than our own impending demise.
It's critically important for the country to think about this through the lens of health care and end of life care. And there have been some amazing pieces produced by physicians and morticians alike - in an effort to get us to collectively think more deeply about these issues. You should definitely read them:
- "Letting Go: What Should Medicine Do When It Can't Save Your Life?" by Atul Gawande
- "9 Lessons a Physician Learned About Dying" by Ezra Klein
- "How American's Refusal to Talk About Death Hurts the Elderly" by Sarah Kliff
- "It's Never Too Early to Start Thinking About Your Own Death" by Caitlin Doughty
- "Confessions of a Mortician" by Eric Puchner
But it's also important to individually think about the end of our own days.
Have you ever had the experience of waking from a terrible nightmare? When the dream fades away and your consciousness rushes in help you separate reality from fiction? And you joyously realize that the horrible thing in the dream didn't happen, that your loved ones remain safe and secure, and that the terrible future didn't come to pass. And above all, the realization that you still have more... time.
That's a powerful moment where dramatic change is possible. Where you can choose to hug loved ones closer or call them more often. Where you can choose to make different choices to alter the path of your life. Where you realize that you're in control and you're responsible for the outcome.
Many people never have those dramatic moments, and when they do finally come - they are at the end of life, when there's really no time left to change anything. Bronnie Ware was a palliative care nurse for many years and repeatedly heard many common themes of regret from her patients. Eventually, she recorded the lessons in a viral blog post: "Regrets of the Dying."
Ware recalls the five most common regrets:
- "I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
- "I wish I didn’t work so hard."
- "I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings."
- "I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends."
- "I wish that I had let myself be happier."
Ware writes: "People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal."
The interesting thing is that you can learn to face your own mortality years or decades before you're actually dying. What do you want to leave the world? How much more love can you give to the people around you? What do you want someone to write about you in your obituary? You still have time to create it.
"Life is a choice," Ware concludes. "It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness."
All of us have only a certain number of days. And all of us have fewer days than we think we do. Counting our days reminds us that it's better to focus on the important things in life sooner rather than later.