Matt Damon has spent a lot of time in space recently. In 2013, it was the sci-fi action movie Elysium. Last year we saw him in Christopher Nolan's epic Interstellar, and now he's completed a trifecta with Ridley Scott's new film, The Martian. Why the emphasis on space flicks? I haven't a clue, but I certainly don't mind.
Damon's third extraterrestrial film falls thematically between the other two. Elysium was entertaining but forgettable. Interstellar was existential and philosophical (but may have gone over the heads of some viewers). The Martian, with it's light, witty humor, is entertaining but also profound. It reminded me of Gravity (2013, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock).
The Martian is everything you'd expect in a realistic space thriller. The acting is flawless, the cinematography is spectacular and I was white-knuckle gripping my seat on more than one suspenseful occasion
Global life expectancy is on the rise. Since 1990, life expectancy has increased from 65.3 to 71.5. Over the next decade and a half, it is expected to climb another ten years to 81. This average includes countries like the U.S. that have seen a steady increase every year since at least the 1930s, as well as areas like East Asia where life expectancy skyrocketed by thirty years in a short period of time. In other words, it's a great time to be alive!
While unexpected deaths still occur even in the most developed countries, they are not nearly as common as they have been throughout history. Accidents, diseases, and infections that once caused sudden death can now be cured or prevented, and despite public perception, deaths caused by war have been in steady decline since the end of the Cold War. As a result, people are are not only living longer, they are dying slower. Medicine and modern health care are able to detect the signs of fatal maladies early on and often slow their progression, effectively easing us gently into the ground.
Recently, a friend told me he was really excited about a new yoga class he was going to, but after a few weeks he started feeling guilty about going. I asked him why, and he said that yoga made him feel uncomfortably selfish. "Yoga makes my mind and body so relaxed and invigorated at the same time, I would do it every day if I could. But that's the problem. I feel selfish doing something that's 'just for me."
The implication is that if something makes me feel that good, it must be wrong. I must be stealing a good from someone else to make it happen.
Maybe you feel that way. You have a favorite activity that makes you feel alive and awake, like the world is a good and beautiful place to exist. But at the same time, you feel a nagging guilty feeling. Somewhere in your past, a parent, a mentor, a spiritual leader or teacher told you that you were being selfish. That you should be more responsible. That there is no room for passion and play in the adult world.
We all carry these wounds. Sometimes they were inflicted by people with the best of intentions: "Give up on music, and get a real job. You'll never make it anyways." "Travel is a waste of time." It can even be something small, like "Don't paint your apartment, you're just going to have to repaint it when you move out" (I'm guilty of that one). This kind of advice often comes from people who foreclosed on their own dreams a long time ago, and you might be bringing up old hurts with your dreams. Squishing your dreams with "reality" is less painful than mourning the dreams they gave up a long time ago.
But the universe is not a zero sum game. Pursuing your passions doesn't mean you are being irresponsible or neglecting some greater good in society. It's not a pie with a limited amount of slices. When you do something that makes you feel alive, you're not stealing the last slice of goodness from someone who doesn't have any. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The universe is expanding. When you pursue your passions, whether it's yoga, higher education, art, music, gardening or any number of other things, you are creating good in the world and in yourself. The books you enjoy only exist because someone shut themselves away for a few months to pound out their ideas on a keyboard. The art class you are taking is only possible because someone devoted themselves to a craft and became an expert through years of practice. The spiritual leaders whose wisdom keeps you on track cultivate their thoughts in solitude and prayer.
This is not a new idea. The greatest men and women in history have understood this. You have nothing to offer humanity, if you yourself are empty and shallow.
It's the same principle lifeguards use when saving people in the ocean, or that flight attendants tell you on airplanes in case of emergency. You have to take care of yourself to care for others. As you seek wonder and experience beauty, you will become an oasis that draws and nourishes others. When you treat yourself to something that makes you feel alive, you are doing something that heals and gives life to the soul. You are not selfish, you are bringing joy to the world. It is only by being yourself, that you have anything to offer. It is in your passion, as you flourish, that you can best love your neighbor and help them flourish.
Take care of yourself. Fill the world with life. Live in freedom, and make the world a better place.
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." -John Muir
Russ is a business and personal coach who helps people lead meaningful lives at the intersection of faith, psychology, movies and business.