Daniel Kahneman wrote a fascinating book entitled Thinking, Fast and Slow. It’s about the distinction between our experiencing self and our remembering self. Atul Gawande draws on Kahneman’s work in his latest release, Being Mortal as he discusses the way that medicine cares for patients in their old age and what it means to prolong life as opposed to preserving its quality and the happiness it can bring. He has a beautiful line in that book which reads,
“In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all of its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens…”
He concludes that, just like in stories, in life the ending plus those significant moments are what matter most—they are what our “remembering self” recalls long after our experiencing self has lived through it. So often I think that as college students, as young people, we are told to enjoy this, to live in this present, colorful world and cherish a time in our lives when our obligations to others besides ourselves are minimal and we have ample time and space to let our minds wander and breathe. We hope that the steps after college will not make the pace of that breath quicken because of the responsibilities that we will face—though we know that, to some extent, this is inevitable. Especially in my senior year, I realize just how focused I’ve been on living in the here and now—and trying to give my “experiencing self” all the freedom it needs to absorb the feeling of possibility that seems to ooze from the very ground that we walk on. It’s invigorating, it quickens your step. But before college comes to a close this upcoming spring, I hope my sister and I give more thought to our remembering selves—to how we will look back on these years. Though this is not our entire story, it is certainly a chapter in our books that is rapidly coming to a close. How will we remember it? Kahneman says that it’s the peak moments and the ending that will stick with us, and in some ways, that scares me. What are my peak moments? And who am I to forget the “non-peak” ones—the late night chats, the weekend shenanigans, the time I was locked out at 2am and a good friend came to my rescue who, thank goodness, lived just down the hall. It’s scary to me that my remembering self is going to pick and choose among my moments, and in so many ways, I begrudge the unfairness of it all. As Atul Gawande reminds us,
“The peak and the ending are not the only things that count. In favoring the moment of intense joy over steady happiness, the remembering self is hardly always wise.”
The current me–at this age of independence and self-righteousness and inspiration–does not yet know the future version of myself whose mind will have chosen the moments worth remembering. But maybe that’s ok. I realize that I don’t truly know yet what has mattered to me most over these past 4 years, because that is a question that only my future self will be ready to answer when she has seen how those moments have shaped the values and trials and joys that will come after Harvard.
A very Happy New Year to you and yours!
Here’s to many more laughs along the way.