So You Say You Want to Know Yourself? Thoughts on Examining Your Life

256px-La_Fontaine_de_Jouvence_Paul_Gervais_m

Our choices tell us who we are. In hypothetical situations it is easy to be heroic or generous, but no one can be sure what he would do until tested in real life. Since we prefer to believe the best of ourselves, if faced with a genuinely costly decision we might act differently than we think. You already know your history in life choices familiar to most of us: electing more time at work or at home, determining what to spend your money on, choosing a life partner, etc. What of those you haven’t experienced?

With all that in mind, I offer you several imaginary scenarios designed to reveal your values. You might find out something new about yourself if you take any of them seriously. After all, the words “know thyself” were inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo. I’d be grateful if you comment and share your thoughts as you consider the outlined scenes, even if you mention only one. I suggest you consider just one at a time. In a future post, I’ll give you my own ideas about the dilemmas listed below:

  1. Someone asks you for a year off your life — a transfer of 365 days from you to him in return for money. Would you accept? How much money seems sufficient? The old Twilight Zone TV series presented an interesting story involving such an offer: The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross.
  2. If you could trade one extra year of good health and youth for one less year of longevity, would you make the exchange?
  3. What would you die for?
  4. What would you kill for?
  5. Imagine you are given the opportunity to improve your physical beauty by 25% or your intelligence by a similar percentage. One or the other, just by saying so. Please discuss your decision and justify it.
  6. You are offered the chance to live one day over again. A “do-over.” Which 24-hours would you choose, if any? Describe what led you to this determination.
  7. A genie will give you the ability to relive one day of your life just as it happened, without change. Which would you choose? Explain.
  8. The gift of immortality on earth is yours — to live forever, never aging beyond your current age. Do you want it? Why or why not?
  9. In your travels you come upon a fountain of youth enabling eternal earthly life at whatever chronological age you choose, with only the knowledge and experience you possessed at that time. To what moment would you return? Might you decide not to drink from the fountain? Tell me more.
  10. Who is the one person living to whom you most owe an apology? Why haven’t you expressed your regret?
  11. Imagine you can live the fantasy of succeeding in everything you try and being continuously satisfied by the progress of your life. It will be experienced as absolutely real, even though you will be in a chair connected to a machine keeping you healthy, supplying you with food, and fooling you into believing you are elsewhere. Alternatively, you can try to make your way in the real world you and I live in, as you do today. Which would you opt for?
  12. You are offered a risk-free, brief surgery permitting you to give yourself ecstatic pleasure by pressing a button whenever you want: the most powerful mood-changer ever invented. The marvelous joy beyond joy lasts only 10 minutes, so if you want more you have to press repeatedly. Do you accept this “gift”? Explain.
  13. You are given a trip in a time machine, enabling you to go back to the moment in history you’d prefer to live in, in whatever place you’d like to live, though you’d remain your current age. The journey is one-way — no coming back. Moreover, you can bring only one other person with you. Would you do so and with whom? To what historical moment and place? Elaborate your deliberation process.

No right or wrong answers here. Have at it!

The painting is The Fountain of Youth, 1908, by Paul Jean Gervais. It comes from Wikimedia Commons.

25 thoughts on “So You Say You Want to Know Yourself? Thoughts on Examining Your Life

  1. Wow, so many provocative choices, many that take a very active imagination to try to respond to since there’s no way to know the reality of living with the selection you make. I would love to see YOUR answers to any or all of these!

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  2. Thank you, but this is intended to encourage both of us to do the work. I’ll do my part if you will do yours. You need only pick one!

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    • 1. Someone asks you for a year off your life — a transfer of 365 days from you to him in return for money. Would you accept? How much money seems sufficient? The old Twilight Zone TV series presented an interesting story involving such an offer: The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross.

      No, I could never SELL a year of my life. However, there are a multitude of people I would happily GIVE a year of my life to if that were possible.

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      • drgeraldstein

        Thank you for your thoughtful, response.

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      • I watched a movie last night in which a line from Tallulah Bankhead was quoted. Her words spoke to several of the questions you presented, from selling a year of your life to re-dos, to things you wouldn’t change and maybe a couple of others.

        She said, “The only thing I regret about my past is the length of it. If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.” This from a woman who died at age 66.

        Not altruistically but selfishly, I absolutely echo her sentiments.

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      • Bankhead led a pretty troubled life — chaotic, really. From what I know of her she dissipated her great gifts by way of addiction and dizzying relationships. And she did make the mistakes early and continuously, so I’m not clear about the meaning of what she said. Something and someone to think about!

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  3. I would both die and kill for my children! They are the most precious gifts I’ve been blessed with so its an easy answer! Thank you for all of your posts, I really enjoy your perspective.

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    • drgeraldstein

      Thanks for the kudos, Kim. I understand the sentiment, but don’t tell your husband that he is not on the list! 😉

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  4. I would both die and kill for my children. They are my most precious gifts that I have been blessed with so its an easy answer. Thank you for all of your blogs! I really enjoy reading your perspective!

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  5. Well this was fun! We all like talking about ourselves. 🙂 I picked 4.

    6. You are offered the chance to live one day over again. A “do-over.” Which 24-hours would you choose, if any? Describe what led you to this determination.

    June 9, 2008. I live my life completely by the idea that everything happens for a reason, that our experiences shape us, and to have no regrets. Except that one. That 24 hours sadly affects every single day of my life and will continue to do so. I can’t find my peace in that yet. “No regrets” has some conditions.

    8. The gift of immortality on earth is yours — to live forever, never aging beyond your current age. Do you want it? Why or why not?

    No way. Death of the physical body is part of life. As much as I’m not ready for it to happen yet, it must be that way. The contrast has to exist to frame the entire experience of life.

    9. In your travels you come upon a fountain of youth enabling eternal earthly life at whatever chronological age you choose, with only the knowledge and experience you possessed at that time. To what moment would you return? Might you decide not to drink from the fountain? Tell me more.

    Again, no way. I’m so excited about how much I’ve grown and what I’ve learned about myself and life! I couldn’t give it up! And this place of growth is only going to continue!

    12. You are offered a risk-free, brief surgery permitting you to give yourself ecstatic pleasure by pressing a button whenever you want: the most powerful mood-changer ever invented. The marvelous joy beyond joy lasts only 10 minutes, so if you want more you have to press repeatedly. Do you accept this “gift”? Explain.

    I already have something close enough to that! Honestly. Every single day in that beautiful space of meditation. I love my practice so much. ❤

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    • drgeraldstein

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Diane. You might want to read a book called “Regret: The Persistence of the Possible.” I’m impressed by your meditation practice. I’ve heard of people achieving serenity via meditation, but not (until now) the kind of joy I described. Brava!

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  6. #13:. I think my soul belongs to the depression era. My soul feels comfort in hardship. My mind wants a simpler life with less advancement and technology. I need people and to connect. So, even though life would be hard, I believe my tortured soul would feel comfortable. I enjoy working hard and reaping the benefits. This would force me to not sit tight and work. People were the entertainment. I would like that. I’d be forced to live in reality. No work, no pay.

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  7. 6. You are offered the chance to live one day over again. A “do-over.” Which 24-hours would you choose, if any? Describe what led you to this determination.
    ~ The choices, good and bad, that I’ve made over the years have brought me to this point in life. I didn’t want children but ended up with two amazing sons. Raising them alone was not easy and watching their current struggles as young adult men often leaves me powerless. Yet, I’ve been blessed in so many ways in having them in my life that any “do-over” would catapult their existence into another dimension.

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  8. drgeraldstein

    Indeed, Rosaliene, some of the choices we make initially seem wrong, and turn out to be beneficial later. The reverse is also true. Congratulations on your children, who doubtless are amazing, in part, because of you.

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  9. Thoughtful and captivating questions and I have appreciated the responses to them. Let me take a stab at a couple.
    What would you die for? Without hesitation, I would die for anyone I love and that includes my children, my spouse, my siblings and their children, and a handful of very close friends. I think that ‘s easy for me to answer right now b/c I am older and I am not clinging to life as, perhaps, I once was. Back in the day, I might have been more eager to stay alive. Now I am okay with letting go. I would also die if my death would advance the notion that human beings do not need labels. If my death would, in some way, contribute to a world where differences do not make a difference, then, absolutely I would die for that.

    You are offered the chance to live one day over again. A “do-over.” Which 24-hours would you choose, if any? Describe what led you to this determination. My immediate response to this was to do over the day my mother died. It’s terribly sad to me that I was not there when she left the planet, especially since, if I had made a different choice about how to spend my morning, I could have been there. My brother was so she did not die alone but I could have been there. I wish I had been. I wish I had been there for her sake (although I am not sure she would have been aware) but also for my sake. I want to understand death more and being present might have increased my understanding.

    The gift of immortality on earth is yours — to live forever, never aging beyond your current age. Do you want it? Why or why not? I absolutely do not want it. There is far too much pain and sadness in the world to hold on to it forever.

    In your travels you come upon a fountain of youth enabling eternal earthly life at whatever chronological age you choose, with only the knowledge and experience you possessed at that time. To what moment would you return? Might you decide not to drink from the fountain? I guess not. Naturally, I wish I could have years back with the knowledge that I have now but, without that knowledge, it seems pointless to want the days back. What would be the value in that if I were simply to repeat the same mistakes?

    I’ve been sort of pondering these questions since you initially posted them. They can be confusing. Well, confusing is not the right word. Thought provoking? I may be back with more responses. Thanks for posting them.

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  10. drgeraldstein

    Thanks, JT. There is considerable overlap between our thoughts, as you will find out when I post my own. With respect to the issue of taking knowledge back to an earlier time, I’ve sometimes thought that one would be a very peculiar 18-year-old (for example) to have the wisdom and attitude toward life of your 60+ year old self. And, I do hope you and others will take the opportunity to provide more thoughts, if you care to. No pressure.

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  11. I am so sorry, I meant to ‘take part’ but now you’ve posted your own replies, though I guess that doesn’t prevent me writing me mine! I tried to not read your own answers before I’d replied to this post, but I was unable to resist 🙂 This past week has been both busy and difficult – and in truth though I wanted to answer I felt a little overwhelmed both by the number and the nature of the questions (not remotely a criticism, more a function of how I am feeling!). They are an incredibly interesting set of questions, and part of the feelings of being overwhelmed is not just about the triggers regarding how one thinks of one’s life, but also that inner drive I have, if not to get the ‘right’ answers (as you’ve said there are none), at least to get answers that would ‘please you’ or interest you. And then there’s the ‘intellectual vanity’ type issue -do I try and answer all, but briefly, or one or two, but more fully? Again, which would _you_ prefer? It is a minefield, even before I start 🙂 I fear that though I’ve started, I won’t get a chance to actually do the answering, until later on, or even tomorrow. It is morning and we are about to head out to church and then a busy day with the kids. Tonight I hope to write a post though I can already feel that my head is not in the right place and writing feels really difficult and I feel really sluggish and demotivated…..thank you for a wonderful and thought provoking post!

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  12. drgeraldstein

    As you say, you can take part or not, as you wish and are able. I’m not the judge of your answers (or anyone else’s) unless you make me one. Take care of your kids, as I know you will. That should be more than enough. 😉

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    • Thank you. ….I’ve abandoned them downstairs for the moment while I cry in the bathroom….I’ve thought a number of times over the last couple of days that my ‘do over’ would be whatever day it was, as a tiny infant, I made some sort of unconscious decision to try and survive, against the odds and everyone’s expectations…..The answers to your questions depend not just on what age we are at, but also on our state of heart and mind; how hopeless or how trapped we feel ; how loved or cared for we feel we are, whether we dread or look forward to the future….

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  13. So, I reckon I should start, and do a bit at a time! One foot in front of the other, as they say….
    10) My parents – I am not particularly nice to them, though I am what you would probably call ‘civil’. Not deliberately cold, but as far as possible, completely neutral. A blank slate, as far as possible. I talk, when I have to, but don’t really ‘communicate’ with them in any meaningful way. I tell them nothing about my life, really, and certainly nothing about my thoughts or feelings. I feel I am depriving them of a relationship with their child, and I feel I should apologise for that. Why have I not expressed it? I can’t, any more than I could express anything else about my life to them. I am sure they are entirely well-meaning, that no actions they took were deliberately harmful, and that they love me very much, in the love that they consider love to work. But they are a fundamental part of why I am where I am today, and that makes it impossible, at the moment, to do anything about expressing regret. Although I wish things had been different all along, I’m not sure if I ‘regret’ (is that the right word in this context?) how things are at this specific time. I have always had to be mindful of emotional self-preservation – I can’t do things any other way because I need to protect myself. I don’t think they will change, but perhaps I will find a different way to protect myself that doesn’t involve quite as high a wall, and perhaps I can forgive and maybe even accept, a bit more. But I’m still not sure I could ever actually apologise – for one thing, I might have to explain why I felt the need and what lay behind the behaviour I was apologising for, and I could never do that. I might not have charitable feelings towards them, but even I can see that actually telling them my situation and the impact they have had, would be a very cruel thing to do, at this stage in our lives….

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    • This is a remarkably frank/open description of one of the most common, but difficult problems that my adult, depressed patients reported to me. I don’t want to make it sound ho-hum, because it never was. It was always alive with feeling and complexity. I’m sure many people who read this will find that it resonates. Thank you for taking it on.

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