Life 9

A little more than six months ago, Lavi coined the phrase “life 9,” to describe a series of decisions she decided she had to make: find a job and a place to live. “Life 9” is “viata 9” in Romanian, which, when the number is spelled out reads “viata noua,” which also means “new life.”

I loved the phrase because it played on the idea that life is a series of successive stages, and each time we move on to a new one, we make choices to get there. One thing we cannot do though is predict how happy we will be when we get there. Making choices and predicting how happy they will make us (they most often don’t because our prediction power sucks) is the thesis of a wonderful book called “Stumbling on Happiness.”

Choices, future happiness and assorted trivia of the human condition have always fascinated me, although the tendency to consume information on how our brains manipulate us has been exacerbated lately (those of you reading this blog don’t need to be reminded of that).

When, last October, I left Romania after a three months stint, I was skeptical that it was the right decision. I had spent such wonderful moments at home that I didn’t want to leave. I also made my dilemma known to friends and family, which has made my dad ask me numerous times: Wasn’t it the wrong decision? Wasn’t it just a waste of time?

Today, typing in an empty apartment in Bucharest, this time having returned home for an undisclosed period of time, I want to stress that the answer is: NO. There were things left for me to do in America, goodbyes to say, and I wanted some distance from a decision to return or not. In Boston I turned to books and essays, mostly by exiles, which explored longing, the myth of the impossible return and the pull of nostalgia. I often felt like a coward, saw myself as somebody who didn’t have the balls to make a decision and was hiding behind tomes of books to find an answer.

One freezing night this winter, I was having dinner with a friend in a Thai restaurant after having suffered through Pan’s Labyrinth. Rubbing my hands together, I was hopelessly stuck trying to tell her that talking about how people act and the ways in which they analyze their actions is easier in English than in Romanian. (My self-awareness works much better in English, maybe because it was the language it matured in.)

The point of the story is that she didn’t think language impotence was worthy of conversation. There were no deeper meanings or themes to analyze there. Things just are, why did for meaning?

Life is and life happens, but I believe that we can understand some of it. This is why I loved the book on happiness. It talks about the ways in which imagination fails us when we try to anticipate whether our choices will make us happy. Imagination cheats and it fills voids of knowledge with assumptions, it makes predictions on future states based on present ones, and it refuses to understand that once the future happens it can feel differently than we predicted. So if we can’t use our own selves to predict our happiness, what should we do? Daniel Gilbert suggests we do something most of us abhor, and I personally enjoy a great deal: take the experiences of others as a guide, because in the end, we are more similar than we think.

My friends laugh at me because I like to say a movie is good or bad before I watch it—a recent habit of mine. Of course, I rate movies on a subjective scale, where “good” means “I liked it”; it doesn’t mean “what an unworthy piece of art” (even though I often sound like I make that judgment call, too). I usually base what I say on the experiences of a few movie reviewers with whom I agree; to me, their experience of a movie is often a decent predictor of my own (Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the exceptions; I didn’t like it).

This is also why I believe “This American Life” to be the most amazing kind of journalism. The stories they tell are stories of people’s experiences and what they thought at the time they were engaging in them. You connect to some of them because you’ve felt the same, or you can take others as guides.

Last summer, before the whole “life 9” phase, Lavi told me it was crap to feed on other’s people experiences rather than live them yourself. At the time, I did a shitty job of explaining why it’s not feeding on them that I was talking about. It’s treasuring them for the wealth of information they carry about who we are, who we were and who we might become if we take this road or that. Learning about the lives of others is not just a voyeuristic experience, but a reassuring and rewarding trip that can help us in turn.

As I write this, I’m working on my own “life 9,” one with the most unknowns of all I can remember. I have already made a few mistakes by allowing imagination to predict future events, but I soldier on as I prepare to make some of the important decisions Gilbert mentioned in his book: what to do, and with whom to do it.

But this time, I won’t be ashamed to look to others for inspiration (tomes of books and people included) while I revel in the happiness of the choices I have already made: where to live, and with whom to live with.

4 Responses to “Life 9”

  1. where to live, and with whom to live with.

    where to live, and with whom to live.


  2. I knew that. I was just pushing for symmetry. 🙂

  3. Who do you live with?

  4. Not in the apartment sharing sense, Sara. I meant the people around me that inhabit my life–some of whom spend more time in my actual home than others.

Leave a Reply