Live as if you'll die in ten years

I learned recently that two of my friends are going to die. Not today, hopefully not tomorrow, but in all likelihood they will die before I do.

This was shortly followed by another realisation: all of my friends are going to die: not today, hopefully not tomorrow, but they will die.

As will I.

The human brain isn’t very good at reasoning about the future. One bias we suffer from is hyperbolic discounting. Tell me I’ve got 60 to 70 years left on this earth and I’ll probably just shrug - it’s too far in the future to really comprehend, and whether it’s 60 or 70 doesn’t seem that important.

Tell me I’ve got 20 years, and I might start to take note. 20 years is barely enough time to have a kid and see them leave home.

Tell me I have 10 years - which is approximately the life expectancy of my two friends - and I can tell you for a fact that the mere thought may send me into a bawling mess, full of fear and regret and uncertainty.

Tell me I have a month, a week, a day? I can’t even begin to imagine what my reaction would be - but I am certain that it would be strong.

Since learning about my two friends’ conditions I have been considering life a little more carefully. The phrase “live life as if you will die tomorrow” comes to mind as a supposed way of waking us all up to the realities of life: but it doesn’t quite work for me. The probability of me dying tomorrow is very low. The upper bound for dying tomorrow in the UK, assuming it is accidental, is roughly 0.00008% - and given that I am in a rather low risk line of work, it’s probably much lower than that still. So as scary as dying tomorrow would be - it doesn’t seem all that likely - and it’s hard for me to get too worked up about.

“Life as if you’ll die in ten years” though - that’s a little more horrifying. My brain quantifies 10 years as being long enough such that something bad could actually happen - yet short enough that if I knew for sure I had 10 years left, I’d hope I’d change some things about the way I live.