When the subject of death arises, most people steer the conversation to happier topics, avoiding difficult discussions about the end of life. Normalizing talking about death, however, is not only practical for loved ones to have all the information they need to make decisions and plan for the future, but it may be a vehicle for greater happiness – by banishing the idea of our own mortality we may not be living life to its fullest.
According to a recent Ideas article by Arthur C Brooks in The Atlantic, in avoiding thoughts of our death, we may put off doing things that would bring meaning and joy because we assume we have time to do these things in the future. But when we accept that the number of days ahead is certainly limited, we can be more determined to make every moment count and not put off happiness and fulfillment. There is even research to support this theory.
When people at the end of their lives are asked about the things they regret, most will say they regret not having spent more time with their loved ones. Rarely do they say they regret not working more hours at the office. And by contemplating death long before its time comes, life becomes more precious and people can often see the beauty around them with greater clarity. The little moments are more joy-filled and happiness increases by acknowledging a limited time to be alive.
Like any shift in mindset, thinking about death, accepting its inevitability and living with greater positivity takes practice. It might help to make this internal dialogue a daily habit and intentionally participate in activities that will bring about the greatest fulfillment and joy. Make a date with your girlfriends for a weekend trip, work with a counsellor to strengthen your marriage, or explore your spirituality on a deeper level; use the acceptance of death to motivate living fully in the present.
Thinking about the end of life can also invoke the desire to leave some kind of legacy. Children and grandchildren and the wisdom, experience, love and affection we have shared with them will live on. Enriching the lives of those you love will make their lives better today, and hopefully, these practices will be passed on to future generations creating a legacy of compassion, generosity, kindness and forgiveness.
And when I die, and when I’m gone
There’ll be one child born
In this world to carry on.
And When I Die – Blood, Sweat and Tears