It seems counter-intuitive, but accepting that each of us will die helps us live our lives more fully.
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We don’t usually talk about death. When we’re asked about it, we may feel nervous or afraid, and we prefer not to get into the details. We put off thinking about it. But in fact, it’s healthier to face it head-on, and treat death as a fact of life that each of us will experience at some point.
As a society, we’ve been pushing the idea of death aside, and today we live with less awareness of its inevitability. Technological advances make us think that death is something far away. It’s true that developments in medicine, nutrition, and sanitation make it possible for people to live longer, but we tend implicitly to think of ourselves as practically immortal, believing that medicine, with all its advances, has an answer for everything.
Another reason we have distanced ourselves from death is that, like many other things, it has become industrialized and the experience has changed a lot. In earlier times, people died at home, where the wake was also held. The community participated and accompanied the family members of the deceased. Death was experienced more naturally.
Today many people die in hospital wards, alone, and sometimes far from their families. In addition, the current situation of the pandemic has led to the prohibition of goodbyes, funerals, and burials. This distances us even more from the reality of death and forces us to miss the rituals surrounding it, which are an important part of the human experience.
On a deeper level, accepting death is a blow to our ego. It hurts to imagine a future in this world without our existence, or to think about what the people we love will do without us. It forces us to realize that we are not indispensable and that if we never die, we will not leave space for new generations.
We also find it difficult to think about death because the end of our lives also marks the end of our hopes and projects in this world. If we instead viewed the reality of death as a teacher, our life would take on new meaning. All of our ideals, actions, and illusions would be lived with greater intensity.
Even if it’s hard for us to understand at first, death is something natural and necessary. If we were physically immortal, the things we do and the people we have relationships with wouldn’t be as valuable to us. We’d reach a point where we’d have nothing left to do or say, and the bonds and moments we lived would not be as memorable, because we’d have an indefinite time available to us.
Why thinking about death can make your life happier
Facing directly the fact that we will die helps us to live better. It’s not about having negative or suicidal thoughts, but about having a healthy awareness of the final part of our earthly existence. If we learn from death, our lives will be filled with meaning, bringing us many benefits that will help us live better right now.
Here are 8 ways that keeping our death in mind can change our lives.
1Recognizing fears and possibilities
Awareness of death allows us to face our fears and to evaluate what resources we have to face them. Sometimes we feel that we’re weak and that we’re not going to be able to cope with a situation we’re facing today. But if we accept our eventual death calmly, we can find our potential as human beings and see beyond the immediate situation.
2Forgiving and reconciling
Death makes us rethink unresolved issues. If we find peace with ourselves and with others, if we forgive and let bygones be bygones, we can let go and have the strength to face the uncertainty of the future. Death encourages us to make peace with life, to take a weight off our shoulders and feel relieved of our baggage by knowing what we want to hold on to and what we want to give to others.
3Putting our lives in order and seeking balance
The knowledge that we’re going to die often gives us time to get our lives in order and be ready to say goodbye. It helps us avoid leaving unfinished business or things we meant to say but didn’t. Instead we seek balance, prioritizing the important things, like spending more time with family and living a better quality of life.
4Not wasting the gift of time
If we refuse to face the fact that we’re mortal, we may waste time doing things that we don’t really want to do or that don’t do us any good. We may postpone projects or leave things done halfway without fully taking advantage of them.
The awareness of death doesn’t mean we should stop planning, but rather being selective and living our life to the full. How often do we sacrifice our happiness for a promise of something in the future that may never come? If today were our last day, how would we live it?
If we’re aware of our mortality, we recognize the value of simple things like being able to walk. Many times we take for granted the things we have or can do: our independence, the use of our senses of sight and hearing, our ability to walk, and so forth.
When we’re aware that we will eventually lose everything we have in this world, it changes our perspective. We give thanks if we wake up in the morning, can see the sun, and can move. We become more aware of life and its gifts, and we experience them with gratitude.
6Living with more compassion
Death opens us to the reality of pain and loss. When we open ourselves to compassion over the suffering of others, we become better people and learn to live from another perspective—a more generous, kinder, and more selfless one. We want to understand, help and comfort those who are in pain or suffering.
7Increased capacity for love
In light of the experience of death, words like resilience and patience take on more strength. These values that are sometimes referred to lightly are lived deeply when they are put into play. We become aware that love and compassion should guide our whole life. It’s not a matter of feeling pity for others, which puts them below us, but of living compassion as something that unites and equalizes us.
8Making life worth living
Knowing that we are going to die illuminates our lives from another perspective. It helps us live with purpose every day. It allows us to put things in proper perspective and be ourselves, recognizing ourselves as finite and vulnerable and knowing what we really want from life.
It gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves and make changes without losing hope. It also encourages us to take risks and do what really matters to us today, because the moment that we’re living is full of value.
This 97-year-old philosopher suddenly saw his death (and life) in a new light