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Why You Should Party Like It’s 1899

The last known person to live in the 19th century died earlier this year.

Not a single human being alive today came into this world in the 19th century. The last known person to have done so – Emma Morano of Italy, born 1899 – died earlier this year.

Let that sink in.

1899 was a long ways from the tech-dominated world that we inhabit. It was the year that saw the first known use of the word “automobile,” in the New York Times. Australia decided on its capital (Canberra). The Spanish-American war formally came to an end. The first household refrigerator was patented, and so was aspirin.

That year was pivotal in the Dreyfus affair. (How many even remember that?) It was the birth year of one of my favorite actors, Humphrey Bogart. And the year Claude Monet began to paint his water lilies.

No one alive today was alive in 1899. And no one alive today will still be around 150 years from now. (Silicon Valley elites be damned.)

Considering these facts produces in me a bittersweet stew of feelings: Awe, sadness, nostalgia, appreciation, and humility.

The world is so large, and my quotidian concerns – so momentous and pressing in their moment – are so very, very small.

If you’re facing a horrendous week at work, dejected over a perceived slight, worried about your in-laws' visit – consider that few things in life are so significant that they are worth overthinking. Consider that we are a microscopic dot in the history of the almost 14 billion-year-old cosmos.

If you do, your strains, fears, and tribulations will seem insignificant and trifling – at least for a time.

In Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s childhood character Alvy famously stops doing his homework after he finds out that the universe is expanding. “What’s the point?” he asks.

Yes, what’s the point of stressing over your kid’s bad habits when you know that the farthest galaxy is 13 billion light-years away?

But he should still do his homework. And you should vote in 2018. Just in case.

More from Sonja Lyubomirsky Ph.D.
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