Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Plateau of Life

At which point do we stop growing up? And which point do we start aging? Which point in our life are we the most alive? Is life linear, or does it follow a "life" cycle? Is there an inflection point in life? Is there an uphill point of life at which we can say, "Its all downhill from here"?

Of course, to answer these questions, we will have to answer a much more basic question and unravel one of the greatest mysteries, namely "what is life?" If we have an answer to this question, and more importantly, if we can quantify this thing called life in some way, then the problem becomes a simple mathematical problem of plotting this quantitative value of life versus time, and try and see where the graph leads us.

But how exactly do we quantify life? For that, it will be important to consider the various facets of life: namely health, wealth, personal life, social life and level of achievement - in no particular order. (Some research on this topic has been done here. However, this time we will make it much simpler, and try solving the problem qualitatively - and also add two new parameters in order to make it more comprehensive.) To make our life simple, we will just add the combined effect of these five factors and come up with a final "value" for life - In Utopian settings, the addition will be through weighted factors, but we are building a base model here.

Lets imagine a "life" versus time 2-D space. We are looking at time at different major instances in your life - and not looking at daily variations. So while a minor bad day will actually lessen your sense of achievement momentarily, or make you wonder about life in general, we are talking about extended periods of time. The time t=0 indicates the time when you are born, and it is safe to assume that at that point of time you are at the origin of the graph. As you grow up, your health and personal life parameters are the first ones to show an immediate increase. As you starts going to school, the other attributes, such as social parameters and levels of achievement (the school debate, making it into the school team) increase as well. So far, so good. Going through college, on a normal day, the social interaction, health and levels of achievement more or less keep on increasing, while there is a substantial hike in personal life if you manage to find love. Otherwise, there is a slight drop, as invariably your relations with your parents starts floundering, as you become the angry rebel, and try to make it up through an even more enhanced social life - and generally a heightened sense of achievement. After college, going for a job, you add a new attribute - wealth and it starts increasing. During the initial honeymoon period, you have a great sense of achievement - actually believing you are making a difference. The table 1 shows these effects in detail (The values given are arbitary - and are just there for understanding of the theoretical aspect).. So far, life is an increasing function with time, and hence all is well.

The Quarter-Life crisis: Now, the quarter-life crisis is such a point in the curve, where life for a small point becomes a decreasing function. After the honeymoon period in your new job is over, you need something more to have a strong sense of achievement. The small increase in wealth is often unable to compensate for the lack of sense of achievement - while there are not much changes in your personal and social life. Hence, the quarter life crisis is the first time in your life that you start questioning, "Where am I headed?"

The Way Out: Marriage or MBA. The former raises the personal life coefficient, while the latter ensures an increase in sense of achievement, and also social life coefficients. Both these factors increase your "life" value and life goes on well - you come out of the crisis. Table 2 illustrates this. Both of these solutions, however, are actually two-edged swords, as a bad marriage can totally ruin your personal life, while a bad MBA can actually remove whatever sense of achievement in life you feel.

Prime of your life: So then, everything starts moving smoothly again. You have children, your personal life is great, you earn good money, and you rediscover a sense of achievement. Your health nowhere close to what it was when you were 30, but you have the gym, and you try hard to rediscover your health. Your social life is going great as well, as you love being the centre of attraction at the various house parties that you now attend, with friends really loving your jokes. Life couldn't be better, and that is exactly when the midlife crisis hits you.

Midlife Crisis: It is not exactly a "mid"life crisis, as you are almost 40 by the time you hit this road, but it is probably the admission that the best part of your life is behind you. The midlife crisis probably starts off by a bad review at work, which makes you question your sense of achievement. Over time, as you start reviewing your life, your personal life also doesnt seem to be too good - the last time you had sex was two years ago. Your social life is also in tatters as you are too busy with your kids to think about your friends. The health is deteriorating fast, and as you pant after doing only 2 kilometers of your daily walks around your apartments, you suddenly realize you are not a teenager anymore. Your graph suddenly takes a sharp dive.

The Way Forward: Is there a way forward? Not really. Yes you are going to make more money over time, but your sense of achievement is most likely going to tumble, and your health is surely going to take you down. Your personal life will depend on your children, who will become the only source of your happiness going forward, and your social life will also decrease over a period of time, as religion starts taking over. You are basically reaching a plateau of life, and life for you has become backward looking rather than forward looking. Your dreams have been replaced by your stories. In other words, you have already lived. And are just waiting for death now. Table 3 illustrates.

The aim of life then, is to postpone the plateau of life and the mid life crisis to as late as possible - and live your life to the fullest. Which path you take to achieve this - however, is upto you. You can be a tennis player, maximising wealth and sense of achievement earlier, and then paying attention to the social and personal life attributes. In other words, live the maximum you can.

(As always, suggestions are always welcome about how to decode life.)


Ronnie said...

firstly you are finding your touch again :)
One point though this graph has problem in my humble opinion at any point of time T=t, the life L seems to always stand on top of the value it has been built over time which might not be true. Case in point the increments in in social life i had during school, i lost during college, but in college i gained a different set of social factor increments ;)

Anonymous said...

A very complete and accurate outward looking view of life. IMHO, it's the contentment we seek (sense of achievement will lead to the same), a thoughtless state where for once we don't have to think and can just be...which refreshes us....a point we are so content that thoughts go missing. This happens everyday in the form of deep sleep. We wake up fresh ready to face another day and very quickly after waking up, the factors which caused the previous day's 'sense of achievement' or 'sense of something-is-missin' start acting on our mind,,,it's the running of the mind which we term as discontentment unable to see why we are unhappy and see we do,,, but everywhere outside...we are addicted to making the mind run to the extent that a mind which can run fast is something to be proud of in the current society; we look for things to do, we become fidgety, play games, call people, go out, or just go for a walk or even show supremacy of the mind (my mind is faster than your's) and we assume that we can control this by external factors and thus, an outward looking view on life always running after this or that(grass is always green on the other side), in effect forgetting that all we are doing is creating momentum of thoughts in the mind. This habit of running after the external will lead us to deriving discontentment from the same thing which we currently assume will give us that feeling of satisfaction. the point remains that it's easier for the mind to seek/run outside than go inside and observe as it's against everything we have been taught. it may be tough to make the mind run but it's infinitely more tough to have control over make it stop. but then this is just another humble view to be rejected as it's nothing but the mind running. ;)

Anonymous said...

you just cannot quantify life.
unpredictable with just too many variables involved.

and 'at what point do we stop growing up'?--ask yourself,arn't you afraid of growing up in the first place?

Anonymous said...

life snatches back its lessons from those who only hanker after promotion and have no tolerance for's greatest lessons come from a downward spiral.

zubin said...

@Ronnie - Thanks. And no, its not exactly accumulated - otherwise how will you explain the decreasing of factors over time. But its just that past memories - of sense of achievement - are accumulated over time.
@Anon1 - Haha, couldn't really make out what you wanted to say. Your mind was running too fast :).
@Anon2 - Same person, same comment. Who and how are you? Dont be so orthodox - am just trying to figure stuff out - You should try doing it to. Pretty awesome.
@Anon3 - I totally agree. :).

Anonymous said...

: Henceforth (if at all), I shall use the nick and this is my second comment(confusion with regards to ur comment @ anon2) on ur blog which I came across last night! cheers.

A said...

you seem fed up.

what you need is unlearning,unconditioning and de-stressing.

you've been too high too soon.
or too low too soon.

write more.

Y said...

what is life seems to be some kind of a refrain on your blog.i was fed up of this rhetorical question of yours till i read the post that you had actually quit your,no sane person would do that.i wonder if you found life any more meaningful after giving up your job.

why this pain in life? did lose some loved one to death? could not marry a girl you wanted to? a victim of circumstances or a grown up child who was killed young? or a madman or a poet? or bored maybe? or just afraid of mortality?

abhishek said...

life is NEVER a platue,imagine life as a wheel which keeps on moving inexorably and without one's is the wisdom of all knowing nature which is infalliable..we take birth,go to school,college,find a job,marry and mate and all will die one between all this,many die too-in bomb blasts,in earthquakes and in floods.
but to the omniscient nature, it makes no difference at what point of the evolutionary cycle one is on,miracles happen for only a chosen few who are at the apex of evolution.
so until nature so wills it,no one can REALLY know why he's here.
trust nature.if your soul deserves it,you'll know.

prateek said...

life-one for the road...
for some crisis never knocks.
Berlusconi for example?
dude,you write to tell the world that you're alive?

Witness said...

Stimulating post yet again:)I have wondered about the same thing and actually agree with your sense of achievement theory.We have to find why exactly we were put here. I mean a couple of billion on this planet minus me would be no big deal no?So why the f*** I am here in the first place?My life is my way of figuring out that.And on the way some fun and friends is the icing:)

zubin said...

@Anon: Seems like my comment irked you, but I just meant that a comment with the exact same verbatim was there in my blog earlier.
@A: Am not fed up, quite far from it. I am happy, though in the past, I have been too high too soon AND too low too soon. And I plan to write more :).
@Y: The sane are the most insane, they say, and who am I to argue. Be happy in whatever you can be. Bored comes the closest, though.
@Abhishek: Soul, eh? Whats the proof, and nature really wills,,eh eh, you sound like some Evangelical Priest. And I dont think my soul deserves it, so have got to find the answers myself.
@Prateek: I love AC Milan. This is the only argument I can come up with.
@Shweta: Totally agree :). I just wonder why dont more people wonder about it though :).

Anonymous said...

for you.

Anonymous said...

watch this and laugh zub.

Tor Hershman said...

Life is chemical processes .
If you have it, it’s an ALWAYS FATAL disease.

tushar said...

dude...going into numbers with respect to life...i hope you are talking in general.
Think about people for whom just getting food twice a day is an achievement....everything will change. Dunno how can the quarter life thing is decided by marriage or mba!!! is it your life or everybody's you are taliking about....also, couldn't read beyond a point coz it became too difficult to flow through....
keep writing....

Shreyas said...

its a very interesting area, trying to quanitfy life...and i must say u hv done a fabulous job...ofcourse thr are so many variables tht your model is essentially theoretical but still its a good way to analyse....i think u cud hv concluded by saying tht once u reach the plateau u cant give think of something on the way to tht plateau tht can get u out of if all the five sub-factors become irrelevant to you at tht point o hv a new graph to climb...u mentioned spirutality, maybe to some it can compensate for all other losses and give you a positive 'life' value....
btw i dont knw why ppl write...keep if u r going to continue or close a blog depending on anonymous comments :P...why cant ppl just say nice post!

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