On his track “Fast” from the album Death Race for Love, the late, Chicago-born emo-rap artist Juice WRLD delivers the following lyric: “I’ve been living fast, fast, fast, fast.” Like Juice, I, too, have been living fast (fast, fast, fast).
Over the past month or so, I have enjoyed a gratuitous amount of leisure activity. I’ve crested volcanoes, imbibed fancy beverages in fancy places, and participated in healthy levels of tomfoolery, much of which would make for excellent content fodder but cannot be shared online until I reach a protective level of wealth or status.
I’ve been thoroughly doused by a free-flowing spigot of experience, and the privilege of that is not lost on me. That’s why I’m disappointed to admit that I’ve neglected to truly process (and thus, truly appreciate) the vast majority of it.
Each day is chock-full of spectacularity and charm -- enough to inspire many months of reminiscent wonder -- and yet, I almost never reflect on the particulars of the good fortune that has befallen me. It goes like this: I have a pleasant time, and before it has a second to land, I’ve already moved on to the next pleasant time. Or conversely, and perhaps more damagingly, I take an L, immediately deny that it has any power to shake me, and revert, unflinchingly, to my preferred worldview that everything is totally, absolutely perfect.
On one hand, this can be viewed positively. If I’m caught up in the moment, then I’m unlikely to yearn unhelpfully for an ungraspable past or future. On the other hand, I now have first-hand evidence that it is possible to have too much fun, that it leads to a listlessness mild enough to be brushed over but potent enough to be bothersome, and that there’s a certain insidiousness to problems that fall in the gap between fully ignorable and urgently in need of solution.
I describe myself as a simple person, satisfied with small thrills like a tasty treat or warm patch of grass to sit on. At my most appreciative, a single friendly email can fuel me through a whole day of mundanity. But recently, my life has been pumped full of serotonin, and I worry that I’m failing to capture all of it.
I have this theory that there’s a cap on how happy a person can be, and everything thereafter is spillover. Let’s assign an arbitrary number to the maximum amount of well-being one can experience in a day -- say, 100 utils, or units of benefit. Each thing (object, activity, feeling, etc.) produces a range of utils, depending on how deeply one enjoys it.
Take cooking and eating an egg as an example.
Living fast is having the option to do Scenario 3 and still doing Scenario 1, but making up for it by doing Scenario 1 a bunch of times so that you still max out your 100 utils a day. In other words, it’s doing 100 fun things a day in the least fun way, but still being “happy” overall due to the constant drip of stimulation. This can occur as a result of feeling time-constrained, pressured to take on as much as possible, or pushed by hustle culture/FOMO/misapplied zeal to do several things poorly instead of one thing well. When living fast, you don’t have to care about whether or not you're making intentional, appropriate choices because there’s an endless supply of util-producing activities right at your fingertips, or just outside your front door. Why attempt to experience the full breadth of a feeling when there are so many fresher and newer ones available to explore?
As is the case in most situations, the right approach to happiness-mining likely involves striking a balance. Sometimes getting on with things needs to take precedence over savoring the moment. After all, you can’t always be in Cape Cod eating eggs worthy of superlative. But, if you do find yourself in Cape Cod, and the weather's right and your mind is clear, maybe take a second to cook the eggs patiently and lovingly. Maybe take a break from perpetually preparing for the next big dopamine hit.
Recently, life has been hectic, one thing after another in a coursing stream. Certainly, it's mostly good news, even some gems worthy of celebration. But I haven't taken the time to absorb any of it. As a result, things feels unreal and sensorily dim, like hearing a story about myself as a child that I have no personal recollection of.
The updates: I just came back from a one-week road trip across four prefectures in Kyushu. I’m about to begin a new job at Open Philanthropy, an organization I hold in high esteem. I’m taking on additional responsibilities at the food subscription service I write for. I’m coordinating an international move to the eighth most expensive city in the world. I’m saying my final goodbyes to the people who made my time in Japan so special. I’m attempting to reintroduce myself to San Francisco in a way that begets optimism instead of tight-jawed determination. I’m trying to construct a life that bolsters my mirth and sincerity, and my feeling of oneness with the world.
At my core, I’m a doer. I push, I strive, I produce. I work hard and I play hard. And I always, always follow through. None of that is going to stop, because it’s what makes me me, and I like me. But I am looking forward to experimenting with being me against the backdrop of a slower pace of life. Saying “yes” is fun, but saying “probably, but let me get back to you” is wise.
At present, my favorite daydream involves eating a bagel. It’s blueberry with strawberry cream cheese, skillfully enfolded in white deli paper. I’m sitting outside on the sun-warmed deck of my childhood home, its smooth grain pressed against my bare legs. The sky is blue and my mother’s tomato plants are ripening. I unwrap the bagel and sink my teeth through its outer crust. The slight crisp gives way to the bounce and fluff of the inside, and I become aware of the contrast between tight crumb and silky cream cheese. As I chew, the two components enmesh into a single homogenous, sweet mixture. I am smarter and older than the last time I was here, but the summertime morning air still feels the same as it always has -- high, fresh, and expectant, like the sharp inhale before a dive.
The bagel makes me happy, very happy, in the Scenario 3 type of way. Even now, as I type and hope and anticipate -- imagining the possibility and sharing it with you -- I am joyful.
Soon, my life will be less adventurous and dynamic. But, if done well, it will be no less fulfilling.
When I left home, I was searching for beauty. Now, having received adequate reassurance that it’s all around, I can stop looking, satisfied with the knowledge that it exists wherever I choose to find it.