Half Empty or Half Full? Taco Chips and the Second Half of Life

By Gary Holdgrafer. Along with Mary Holdgrafer and Wendy Huntington, Gary leads Creative Aging: Embracing the Second Half of Life.

Recently I was sitting in the customer lounge at the auto shop waiting for my car to be serviced. Among the free coffee, old magazines and sections of the newspaper scattered about, the vending machine was the most exciting attraction.

I noticed avocado flavoured taco chips as the clear choice for healthy eating. I deposited my $1.25 and absorbed myself in watching the automated process of moving a bag to the end of the row whereupon it fell to a tray accessible through a slot.

The bag was plump; promising sufficient munchies to last through what would be the itemized summary of services on my bill. There was no indication of where to open the bag. After several strained efforts I managed to tear it open with sufficient force to spill the contents on the floor.

I was both relieved and surprised when I did not. I quickly learned why. Peering into the depths of the bag, I discovered a small pile of green chips located in the bottom. They had apparently been well cushioned in the above fall by a thick layer of air held in by a tight seal.

My first thought was, why is this bag half empty? With time on my hands, I immediately began waxing philosophical about whether life is a glass, or adding more to the metaphor, a bag of taco chips that is half-empty or half full.

I noted my pessimism in feeling troubled about the bag being half empty. Better, I suppose, to be optimistic in seeing the bag as half full, an opportunity to savour the contents as being precious. Such is the second half of life and what we make of it.

My form of optimism was to become curious. I decided to harvest this disappointment by making it a learning experience. So I posed the question to Google, why are bags of chips half-empty?

Many sites appeared. I felt confirmed that many others had the same question. I did note that “half full” and “half empty” were used interchangeably. I seemed alone in elevating a partial bag of taco chips to existential contemplation. People simply wanted to know why the bag was not full.

Why is the bag not full? Apparently, air sealed in the bag does cushion the chips and keeps them from breaking into taco bits on their way to the store shelf or vending machine. The air in the bag contains nitrogen. It keeps the precious few chips fresh so they can in fact be savoured, unless of course, the consumer is far too pessimistic about life.

Why should the second half of life be only half full? Is that really an optimistic view? Is that what we are to make of it? To simply re-frame the negative as positive? Surely we can do better. Life should be a container with those crisp round chips stacked to the top.

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