Am I Thankful to Be Alive?

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, so I thought I’d take some time to reflect on thankfulness. The topic feels especially pertinent this year: Six months ago, I nearly succeeded at taking my own life. But thanks to the combined efforts of rescue, emergency, and health professionals, I’ve more or less resumed life where I last left off.

Am I grateful for that?

The answer, as with most things in life, is complicated.

By definition, life is a protracted cycle of energy and effort expenditure. A being cannot “live” without actively striving to prolong or better its existence. In the good ol’ caveman days, that merely meant satisfying the bottom tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Get food, water, shelter, and you’re good. But in modern society, the hierarchy expands beyond basic needs to include the nebulous category of self-actualization: Resources, a sense of community, status, strength, and purpose. Note that while modern life doesn’t require you to ascend the hierarchy, life is often less bearable should you shirk the responsibility. You may feel unloved and unfulfilled as a result.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Image sourced from Simply Psychology

So whether you’re a caveman (lucky) or a modern motherfucker, the point is that life has demands. It has requirements. Each day, it requires voluntary effort and participation. It can’t go on without your input. And if you do a mediocre job, you’ll get mediocre results. In the caveman sense, that might mean eating rotten flesh instead of a fresh kill and shitting yourself senseless as a result: Not good enough. In the modern sense, that might mean reluctantly following an unfulfilling line of work to pay the bills and feeling shitty about yourself for decades as a result: Not good enough.

In other words, Life is a fickle, fussy bitch of a mistress. She demands the world of you and promises little in return. Anyone and anything alive is beholden to her needs and exists only at her behest. And so the living are lifelong sycophants, forever fretting over her demands, sore at the knees from having spent so much time bent over as a servant would.

Meanwhile, Death asks nothing of you. In its finality, it liberates you from Life’s demands, absolves you of the burden of actualization, and lifts you out of the Hierarchy of Need’s imprisoning walls. No more anger, despair, violence, corruption: Just stillness. Everlasting peace.

Life can have its moments, and I’ll keep doing it as long as it rewards me for my effortful participation. But I would be remiss to say that it’s preferable to the loving embrace of Death.

Featured image by Katherine Conrad on Unsplash


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3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Don’t let a chart tell you what you “should” be striving for. Making the most of yourself is probably not what most people want… some of the ideas about this topic are literally thousands of years old (which tells you something about how much humans are interested in the question). I found this recent article in Science News to be really interesting, even if it applies to only a small subset of people, because for them, it matters a lot. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/what-can-science-tell-us-about-living-a-good-life (Ok, this only links to the summary of the story; the full story is paywalled but I am a subscriber because, for me, reading about new ideas and research makes me happy; I don’t have to be the one thinking them up to enjoy them.). The basic idea is that some people desire new experiences, not “self actualization”. What I found interesting about the idea is that it makes it a little more obvious that some pyramid chart, really, any pyramid chart, is going to be a bad fit for some people, regardless of what happens to be on the top. I’m not sure where “I saw a chipmunk do something funny this morning” fits on Maslow’s chart, but for me, today was a good day. Here’s wishing that some of those days find their way to you and yours.

    1. Thanks for your insightful comment, Mark. I certainly agree with you and the article you shared: Novelty (or “richness”) and new experiences can greatly enhance one’s life. In fact, novelty seems crucial to the human experience because it placates the part of our lizard brains that finds insecurity in stasis. An example of this is the sensation of “cabin fever” when one stays at home for too long.

      Anyway, I feel obligated to pursue self-actualization because if I don’t, I fear I will experience deep regret. I’ve never been content with just existing and experiencing, and that’s unlikely to change. It seems my “calling” is to make sense of the world by sharing stories that highlight some of its injustices and evils, along with raising some provocative questions about being human. That’s what I’ve been doing on Sundays, but it is more work: More energy and effort, as always.

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