Many of us live on a sliding scale anchored between self-preservation and catching our jollies. On one hand, we know what's best for our minds, our bodies. That eating vegetables and not hitting the bottle are the best table odds for breaking a centennial. We're also equally compelled to wring every drop out of the swathes of life. But too often we sacrifice one path by choosing the other.

Without letting semantics wash over us, destruction, in this sense, can mean a variety of things. Booze, drugs and a pack of Luckies are conspicuous culprits. But consider that "destruction" is anything that leads to moral, mental or physical decay, no matter how piddling. Then, everything from video games to untethered rock climbing is colored irresponsible.

Some of our hobbies are more noxious than others, with proportionate aftereffects. A hangover is one thing. A moral hangover as a result of the thing that gave you a physical one is worse. Buying things you can't afford, eating like shit and generally writing checks your derrière can't cash also fall into this category.

But—and this is nothing new—there are people out there who live by a code summarized best by a filigreed, inner-bicep tattoo reading "Live Fast, Die Young." You know, being a firecracker rather than, say, a slow-burning communion candle. And we're just as likely to balk at those people as we are at the ones who indulge in nothing even remotely damaging. Thus stems what your mom said to you in high school when she found out you started binge drinking: "Everything in moderation." The interesting thing, though, is that moderation means different things to different people.

This thing called "feeling good about ourselves" dictates how often and radically we bounce between chipping away at ourselves and spackling over the fresh divots. It's an equilibrium we reach within ourselves that hangs in the balance on tightropes made of self-control. So, as you can imagine, and probably experience on the regular, shit fluctuates.

Our reactions to the things we regret later come with a side of heavy reflection, which is how we recalibrate what we feel comfortable sacrificing for a good time. It's why, as you get older, you'll see fewer and fewer of your friends meet up at the bar, even on weekends, or why your neighbor sold his Harley after having twins. The flip side of that is when people ramp up their recreational activities to the point where everyone in the middle fifty percent of the sliding scale considers them extreme. Addicts, base jumpers, people who, in general, have decided—sometimes unwillingly—that the trill of the act outweighs the possibility of the curtain dropping at any time as a result. In short: the most passionate ones.

And while not intended to be prescriptive, what we should most wonder is whether this whole thing is about living a long time or living. The generalization you could draw here are, admittedly, sweeping. But like anything worth thinking about, it isn't a code we'll crack sitting in an armchair. I don't have the answer, but my gut is telling me I might, if I can just stick around long enough to figure it out, of course.

Illustration via David Vann

Rick Morrison is a writer living in North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter here.