Strictly Good Advice

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Strictly Good Advice,


What are some tips to keep life exciting?




Hello, Bertram, and thanks for the question. Before we proceed with the advice, I will remind our readers everywhere that Strictly Good Advice is, legally and ethically, an entertainment column. Whatever practical wisdom results from its consumption is a product/responsibility of the reader’s critical license; inform this license with the expert opinion of an actual professional before making life decisions with serious consequences.  


When you ask for tips to keep life exciting, I imagine you are asking about some action that you can regularly and easily take to increase the excitement you derive from some everyday behavior. I will not consider material acquisition in this class of actions — while a tour de force of the Croatian nightclub scene or some convincing knockoff Supreme is likely to spark thrills, I believe that one’s access to excitement should be independent of one’s financial standing or tastes in consumer goods. So among the conventionally exciting things that will not be included in my strictly good tips for keeping life exciting are backpacking, electronics, fashion, restaurants, bar crawls, romantic getaways, cultural events, jetskis, extreme sports, running for public office, and drugs. Instead we will investigate the efficacy of some immaterial lifestyle choices. A salient example would be sprinkling alliterative sentences into your standard-issue prose. That is something I do as regularly as possible to keep my own life exciting. I will skim a couple of popular options for sustained kicks as well as their caveats, and then present a tactic that I employ in my personal life.


On one view, excitement requires something like a regular booster shot of “Wow!” juice to the head; in this framework the potential for excitability depends on the satisfaction of goals. When I use the word “goals” I don’t necessarily mean productive goals. I could refer to something as basic as the meeting of a biological urge (a long piss, a long overdue meal) or something constructed and complicated (a promotion, a date with tennis champion and maternity phenomenon Serena Williams) and the phrase would mean the same thing. It is at least a little exciting to correctly execute life functions. Correctly execute the most life functions and it follows that you will be the most excited. The problem with this schema is that it is hard to tell which goals are truly exciting to meet and which goals merely appear exciting to meet. The satisfaction of certain goals may require submission to more tedium or suffering than they are worth, and if you can’t make this judgment immediately, you will unknowingly work toward goals with no prospects of net excitement.


Another idea is that excitement requires something like a satisfaction of a death drive. Driving at ludicrous speeds instead of normal speeds would, in this respect, be exciting. There is a physiological basis for this phenomenon, but I will defer to the academic literature on that matter. The takeaway is that if you subscribe to this epinephrine-contingent theory of excitement, then you should be as close to dying as possible for as much of your time alive as possible. Stray from the sidewalk and skip through the middle of the road. Take the stairs up and down in increasing integer multiples at a time. Send an adoring letter to tennis champion and maternity phenomenon Serena Williams. Constantly be risking as much as possible so that no matter how meager the rewards your actions warrant, each tiny movement forward feels like a successful triumph of life over death, immense pleasure over incredible pain. I do not recommend this approach, but it is out there for the more reckless personality types among the readership. I will say that, in carefully measured doses, risk-taking can be a renewable source of free excitement. The problem with accepting this claim is that moderation itself is not very exciting. Ice cream is exciting in any volume, but eating an appropriate amount of ice cream with appropriate frequency has a self-flagellating aftertaste. At this point it looks as if our only options as mortals seeking excitement are to live on the precipice or to freeze ourselves in baptist penance. I believe there is a workaround to this existential dilemma.


It is easier to deal with issues of outlook than with issues of action. Your opinion on social issues can change as a result of reading or conversation, but your physical habits and actionable tendencies can resist lifetimes of cognitive behavioral therapy. In that vein, I suggest we shift our focus from changing and adopting excitement-conducive actions toward a new perspective on the nature of excitement. Test out this maxim: everything that happens is exciting until proven boring. Waking up, waiting rooms, bumper-to-bumper traffic — any possible arrangement of atoms could speak to your sense of excitement. It may not, but the implied necessity of thorough investigation and trial will make it harder to abandon your assumption. If you have trouble rewriting your personal legislation, you may consider the argument sketched in the following paragraph. I have found it especially useful when I have doubts about the fundamentally exciting nature of ordinary life events.


Human life at its most boring is the labor of trillions (yes, trillions) of cells with operations as complex as any human city. It is intuitively plausible that among the trillions of thousands of interactions taking place, at least one of them is exciting. If none of them could possibly be exciting, no scientist would find excitement in her job observing and analyzing these interactions in some capacity. It is intuitively plausible that there is at least one scientist who finds her work exciting. In fact, I know a scientist who finds her work exciting, so there must be one. I accept, then, that any aspect of human life has at least one exciting thing about it. So I have no problem imagining that, insofar as its exciting qualities are relevant, anything has some exciting quality. That is not to say that every scene in the quotidian mess of life is anything like a light lunch or maybe early dinner with tennis champion and maternity phenomenon Serena Williams. What I mean to say is echoed in Mary Poppins, the only work of musical theater that hasn’t sparked in me the desire to do a bad thing to an innocent person. “In every job that must be done,” Ms. Poppins says, “there is an element of fun.”


In need of some strictly good advice? Send a question by electronic mail to strictlygoodadvice(at)gmail(dot)com, or by snail mail to the author at 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA, 19081.


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