Want to really live your life to the fullest? Then it’s high time you spent some time thinking about death.
I’ve recently become obsessed with The School of Life’s YouTube channel, and a recent video — Reasons to Remember Death — really caught my attention. Death is something a lot of people don’t like to think about, and rightly so. The unknown is scary, and death is the biggest (and most inevitable) unknown we face. As scary as it is, it’s useful to think about it and, as The School of Life suggests, use that fear to our advantage. The video kicks off with this powerful statement:
Many things we’re meant to tackle are left aside because we’re scared.
We’re scared to fail. We’re scared to be alone with our own feelings, scared to eject certain people from our lives, scared to tell our partners who we really are, scared to take our dreams seriously.
From fear, we delay the lives we know we should be leading.
So many of us are afraid of what others might think of us, what risks we might have to take, or what we might lose if we show the world who we truly are and go after what we truly want. The thing is: there’s not a lot of time. We’re only given so many days, so many moments, and we don’t know how many of those we have left. Rather than letting the brevity of life terrify us to the point of immobility, The School of Life suggests:
We should use the thought of death not to make us despair of life, but to shake us into committedly pursuing the life we know we need to lead. We will act when the fear of death is finally allowed to trump the fear of failure or humiliation, compromise or shame.
Deliberately scare yourself about the only thing you need to fear, and thereby be liberated to get on with everything else that so badly needs doing.
I urge you to scare yourself a little bit this week. Think about what it will be like to be lying on your deathbed, reflecting back on your life. What will you want your life to have looked like? Are you doing what you need to make sure it looks what way? If not, why? What are you waiting for? When do you think the time will be right? (Hint: it’s never the perfect time to do anything that’s hard.)
When you consider consider death — scary as it is — you’ll realize that so much of what you spend your time worrying about isn’t all that important. You’ll feel freer and braver. You’ll want to go after the things you really, truly want (even if those things seem a bit crazy).
Don’t delay the life you should be living. If you’re not already living that life (and I hope you are!), find a way to take action now — today, if possible! — to move toward with living a life you’ll look back on with gratitude and joy. Of course, life will never be perfect (and it would be boring if it was!), but life shouldn’t be governed by the fear of failure, the sharp nudge of shame, or the cunning guise of compromise. Life should be ruled by pursuing the things that truly make you feel alive, fulfilled, and consumed with appreciation.
There’s a Latin term, momento mori, that means “remember that you have to die.” It originated as a reminder to victorious generals not to get to caught up in praise after winning a battle, but instead to be humbled by the notion that they, too, would someday die. While the root of the concept was about humility and virtuous living, for me momento mori is about living a positive, fulfilled life not only because it’s wonderful for you to make the most of your life, but because I truly believe that if you are doing things that bring you joy, gratitude, and fulfillment, you will ultimately make the world a better place. You living a good life is good for the lives of those around you and those who will continue to live long after you’re gone.
Life is like a giant ocean and everything we do has a ripple effect. The ripples we create — both good and bad — spread out and out and out. They reach so many more people than we realize. What you do with your life matters, and the more you fear death, not life, the more you’ll make the most of every moment you’re given. The better your moments, the more good ripples you send out into this great big ocean of humanity.
I know death is scary (I won’t pretend I’ve come close to accepting it yet, though I hope one day I’ll find peace with the inevitable…), but it’s important to use it to your advantage, rather than avoid it. We’re all afraid, but it’s so much more useful to fear death than it is to fear life. Try not to think of the space between right now and your last day as a negative (a limited amount of time) but as a positive (an exciting challenge to make the most of these remaining moments). Regardless of how many days you have left, I believe you deserve to live them to the fullest, and, more importantly, I believe you have the strength and knowhow to go after the life you deserve right now.