Coronavirus has certainly provided cause for concern about surviving, but there seems to be a lack of distinction between surviving and living. Regardless of whether you believe we’ve taken this too far or not, understanding the definitions and differences between the two terms is essential.
Words matter, but far too often people are unwilling to question the words they hear and regurgitate. Much of the conversation regarding COVID-19 shutdowns centered around saving lives. While there is merit to this as every life indeed holds inherent value and dignity, it’s necessary to distinguish between surviving and living because we must identify what constitutes a flourishing, well-lived life.
What Is a Life Well Lived?
Ancient Greek philosophers referred to a flourishing life as “eudaemonia.” They distinguished this idea of a well-lived life from the modern conceptions of happiness, which seek little more than maximizing pleasure and minimizing discomfort. Behrouz Zand says that for Plato and Aristotle “happiness is a result of human flourishing. In other words, eudaemonia is our well-being broadened out throughout life in which we live to our full capacity. In essence, a life well lived.” This leads us to the question of whether a life well lived entails mere survival, or if living means more than just surviving.
Eudaemonia is our well-being broadened out throughout life in which we live to our full capacity.
Merriam-Webster defines surviving as simply “remaining alive or in existence,” whereas the definition of living includes “having life, full of life or vigor, and suited for living.” These distinctions are crucial, as survival simply entails the perpetuation of existence while living encompasses something much more active. Being “full of vigor” or even “suited for living” is entirely different than simply “remaining alive.” When people talk about what they want out of life, rarely do they include just “remaining alive” in their list of desires.
We’re made to interact with others; humans want to love and be loved. These loving interactions can come from time and experiences with family or friends, and they can be small and intimate moments or the sharing of life’s great joys: new babies, graduations, marriages, promotions, and achievements. These moments can also hold pain and suffering, but there is beauty in leaning into the support of others and sharing even the difficult experiences with those willing to help you shoulder your burdens.
The things that make life worthwhile are meant to be taken advantage of, not tucked away until everything is perfectly safe.
Besides a gamut of shared human experiences, most people want adventure: to travel and see the world, to learn about other places, cultures, and civilizations. Immersion in art, history, and the genius of the human race is inspiring and moving for some, while reveling in nature and the natural wonders of the world provides solace for others.
Is Truly Living Worth the Risk?
Coronavirus swept the Earth and gave us good reason to be cautious in order to ensure the survival of ourselves and others. Particularly for those at high risk, I completely understand the need to continue quarantining and being extremely cautious. I’m not here to judge anyone or go into detail on mask wearing or any other precautions someone feels they need to take. That being said, I think it’s important that no matter what your situation is, you reflect on the difference between surviving and living.
My 85-year-old grandmother-in-law asked to go out and look for a specific flower when all the lockdowns began, and her caretaker suggested she stay home and let someone else pick it up for her. She responded, “I’ve lived through nearly 60 years of a beautiful marriage, traveled the globe, been through world wars, raised a family, and experienced the joys of becoming a grandmother and a great-grandmother. If now is my time, then it’s my time. I have lived a full and good life, and if I die then I want to die looking at the flowers I pick out.”
Living, not just surviving, involves risk.
Although seemingly trivial, this statement from someone who falls in the most “at-risk” category of contracting Coronavirus with probably fatal consequences serves as a stark reminder of the difference between surviving and living. The things that make life worthwhile and beautiful are meant to be cherished and taken advantage of, not tucked away until everything is perfectly safe.
Closing Thoughts: Experiencing Life with Others Makes the Risk Worth It
It’s the people in my life that make each day worthwhile. The shared moments of both triumph and heartache, the love that is given and received, and the strength and wisdom I see and experience from those I care about all play a role in my personal experience of a life well-lived. While the particulars of what makes life meaningful are different for everyone, the fact is that walking out your door every day is risky, regardless of Coronavirus. Living, not just surviving, involves risk. But every day, people choose to take that risk because life is meant for living, not just surviving. Let’s of course look at survival rates, but let’s also acknowledge that living is so much more than merely surviving.