Thinking About Death

When we learned about the science of happiness back in April, we ended the month discussing the meaning of life.

Now that we are discussing philosophy and happiness, we will get just as heavy. But at the other end of the spectrum.

We’re going to end our philosophy and happiness month by discussing the importance of death.

Death in Ancient Rome

The Romans thought about death a lot.

After great military victories, Roman generals would be granted a “triumph.” The triumph was essentially an epic parade. The whole city would come out to see the general being carried through the city with the victorious army and the spoils of war on full display. It was a full day celebration of the general. He was on top of the world.

But on the float with the general would be a slave whose only job was to periodically remind the general that he was a mortal and that he would die one day. (The idea was conveyed in the phrase “memento mori,” which is much more succinct than “You’re a mortal who will die one day.”)

The cheering and accolades and adoring fans feel great, but don’t let your head get too big, because you’re going to die just like everyone else.

Philosophers Thinking About Death

While all of Rome thought about death, the Roman Stoics were specifically interested in thinking about death in order to live a better life.

Epictetus said to “keep the prospect of death, exile, and all such apparent tragedies before you every day, especially death….” All of the Stoic philosophers talk about the importance of fighting our natural fear of death and keeping it at the top of our mind.

Their view is that death itself, like pretty much everything in life, is neither good nor bad. It is just a fact. It is a thing that happens to everybody. Death is not negative. Fear of death is negative.

On top of that, death gives meaning to life. The fact that our time is limited provides greater weight to what we choose to do with our days.

A Better Life

Knowledge of death allows us to appreciate life. If we ignore death, then we act as if life is everlasting. We take the little things for granted. We don’t appreciate the everyday interactions we have with those around us.

Acknowledging that life could end at any moment instills a sense of gratitude. If you recognize that this is the last sunset you may ever see, you appreciate its beauty. If you remind yourself that any interaction with someone could be your last, you savor the conversation and are more present and engaged.

As we know, gratitude increases happiness. Being present and engaged improves our relationships, and deeper relationships are another key to happiness.

If we want to live a happier life, maybe it is time to start thinking more about death. It’s not necessarily an intuitive idea, but it is a lesson that we could all learn.

Join the Conversation!

How about you? Do you have a negative view of death? Do you have a practice of thinking about it every so often? Let us know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Thinking About Death”

  1. As a Christian I don’t have a negative view on death. It’s just the next thing. I’d like to avoid a long drawn-out or painful death, but death will come, so I accept it.

    BTW, here’s a pretty good life expectancy calculator for anyone who wants to approximate how many years they have left this side of eternity:
    Brad – Financial Life Planning recently posted…How to Defer Taxes on up to $55k when Self-EmployedMy Profile

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