What does it mean to be alive? Vibrant question with some terribly dull yet technically correct answers like not being a rock? The more accurate question I’m wanting to be asking is what’s the difference between living and existing as a person? A little less glamorous and a bit more cerebral, even though I’m meaning the same thing. I can’t see the second question being a dramatic movie or conversational line, for example. Regardless, what does it mean to be alive or living, rather than merely existing, as a person? For most of my life, I’ve never had a good answer until I heard world renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel share her meaning. Recently, though, I feel I have a better meaning, for me, at least.
Esther Perel described the difference between living and existing as being creative, or taking risks that is an unavoidable product of creativity due to the judgment of others possibly being not what you like, even if you wanted people to hate your work. Esther didn’t mean creativity as being like the arts, though it could be. Rather, it is just the creation of anything, whether material like a cake, or less material but more dynamic like new sports move, or just expressing yourself in some way like singing something that is your interpretation of a famous song. The caveat, though, is that you have to do it out of wanting to do so, not out of duty, like you have to bake a cake for your kid’s birthday and that’s the only time you do it because you didn’t want them to feel bad to have a birthday without a cake. Or perhaps because you felt obligated to bake a cake to prove you’re showing them love even though you could have bought one, and might have done so had you not cared about the judgment of others about not putting in any effort to show love in just spending a little money.
Esther Perel’s definition came out of Holocaust survivors she saw in her neighbourhood growing up, from how there seemed to be two types of survivors. One group did and created things, and showed they had some life in them, to create new things, at least try to make the world a better place, and so on. The other group just existed, survived the days of life to do only what’s needed, which didn’t set the world back, but a robot could have been easily imagined to have led the same life. Despite being the creative type to relate to Esther Perel’s definition for living rather than just existing as a human being, I felt that not only others could also relate, but that I could apply the definition to others and see who I felt were doing that in life.
Recently, though, with some changes in my life, from those I initiated to those forced upon me, I’ve taken Esther Perel’s definition one level up to even have less granularity, or more generality, to create a definition that suits me better. That definition is to live, you have to change, or more appropriately, evolve. Even when the changes are forced upon you, you just don’t try to absorb it best you can, but like a true evolutionary creature in Darwin’s theory of evolution, you adapt with something new you create or develop. It has the creation and creative aspect of Esther Perel’s definition, but doesn’t require you to initiate it, just at least react to it to change yourself in the process rather than just taking the brunt of it and letting it change you like beating you down into a less recognizable of your former self.
For me, as someone who thrives on change and who’s long known that, even unpleasant change as a challenge in life, as much as I would never wish for it, I’ve recently realized that change is my elixir of life. When there’s not enough from life, and sometimes even when there is, I go create it to have more challenges, which turn into purposes, to feel more alive! When there is, then it’s all hands on deck to make something good out of that change after minimizing its impact with some fighting back and/or adaptation. “The only constant in life is change” is an observation I had insight into from a very young age to become a quote I live by, and wrote myself before realizing someone else had already written it. If that were the driver of life, then, to live a life is to embrace that driver for oneself. Always have something to adapt to or look forward to making happen is basically a life always with a purpose, which is the key to not only happiness, but also a longer life for whatever else may inhibit its final duration.