Redefining the Perception of Death


Within the intricacies of distractions and ambitions, there exists a silent spectator that often goes unnoticed: mortality. It is a universally acknowledged truth, yet people seldom pause to acknowledge it. Instead, they navigate the world with a veneer of invincibility, convinced of their immortality and unphased by the inescapable march of time.

In this relentless pursuit of success, validation, and fulfillment, the very prerequisite of existence gets dismissed. However, as a paradox of the human condition, the more one resists their mortality, the more tangled one becomes in the illusion of timelessness, lulled into a false sense of security.

This way, people live in a perpetual state of denial, shielding themselves from the discomfort of confronting their impermanence. And yet, in a haste to conquer this mortality, you risk losing the finite moments you truly possess. 

This article invites you to rethink your perception of death and embrace simple moments with reverence, gratitude, and awe. In acknowledging the finiteness, you embrace the value of undemanding moments and the vulnerability of human experience. Read more to find out how you can rediscover living through this perspective shift.

Understanding the fear of death

What would it be like to live forever? Or have a really, really long life? It might seem exciting at first – you could try out different jobs, have lots of different partners, and pick up all sorts of hobbies. But having infinite time doesn’t necessarily mean we would be endlessly happy.

Then why do you fear the finiteness of life? What makes you afraid of death? The following are some ideas that have attempted to reason what makes one fear death.

Psychological perspectives

Contemporary psychological reasoning of the fear of death (FOD) is associated with a lack of high self-esteem, strong religious beliefs, good health, a sense of fulfillment in life, close relationships with family and friends, and a resilient attitude.

In the past, the fear of death, known as thanatophobia, has been explored through different lenses to offer insights into the fear of death.

Sigmund Freud, a prominent psychologist, proposed that it is inherently impossible to represent your death, as any attempt to anticipate one’s own death as a state of nothingness is futile. Freud acknowledged this philosophical dilemma (p. 296), noting that “our unconscious… does not believe in its own death; it behaves as if it were immortal.

On the other hand, the Terror Management Theory delves into the existential anxiety humans face regarding mortality, proposing that individuals may cope by denying the reality of death through cultural or religious beliefs or behaviors aimed at attaining a sense of immortality, such as seeking fame or leaving a lasting legacy. 

Religious and cultural perspectives

Religions approach death in unique ways. However, they all serve to comfort people while providing them with a scaffold to lead a good life. 

For instance, Christians find solace in the belief in an afterlife where they can connect with God, while Muslims derive comfort from the prospect of reunion with loved ones in Jannat. 

Hindus believe in reincarnation and the eventual attainment of liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth, known as Moksha. 

Buddhists view death as a natural part of existence and emphasize reaching Nirvana, while Jews have structured customs for mourning and burial rooted in a celebration of life and remembrance.

Even among Atheists, who do not adhere to religious beliefs, the philosophy of death varies widely, reflecting personal outlooks and worldviews. Some may embrace the idea of an afterlife based on personal rationale, while others may reject the concept altogether, emphasizing the importance of living a meaningful life in the present.

Overall, these perspectives on death offer insights into the complex interplay between psychological, existential, and cultural factors that shape individuals’ attitudes and fears surrounding mortality.

Practical approaches to embracing mortality

According to the philosopher Epicurus, understanding that death holds no significance allows you to derive pleasure from the finite nature of life. This enjoyment doesn’t arise from the idea of endless time but rather from recognizing that immortality would lead to profound boredom and a lack of meaning. 

While you may still harbor fear and dislike towards death, this realization can help you become more accepting of your mortal existence and less inclined to reject or flee from it. Delving into the practical approaches to embracing mortality, here are strategies that can help you cultivate a healthier relationship with the inevitability of death.

Making intentional choices

Embracing mortality can serve as a powerful catalyst for living intentionally. Acknowledging the finite nature of your existence often prompts a shift in perspective, leading to a clearer understanding of what truly matters in life. 

Read more: Unveiling the Meaning of Life Through Purpose, Community, and Transcendence 

By acknowledging your mortality and living with intentionality, you can cultivate a deeper sense of purpose, fulfillment, and satisfaction in your life. Each intentional choice you make brings you closer to a life that aligns with your values and aspirations. Here are some practical tips and examples to help you make intentional choices:

Define your values

Take the time to reflect on your core values and what truly brings meaning to your life. Whether it’s spending time with loved ones, pursuing personal growth, or making a positive impact on others, identify what matters most to you.

Read more: How Finding Your Purpose Helps You Excel 

In Paul Wong’s theory, he explains that human reactions to death are complex and dynamic. He identifies various aspects of the meaning of death, including finality, uncertainty, and annihilation. 

Wong’s theory suggests that individuals seek meaning and reason for survival, and those who find purpose and contribute meaningfully to society may experience reduced death anxiety. Therefore, by defining values and pursuing meaning in life, you can potentially alleviate fears surrounding mortality and cultivate a more positive perspective on death.

So, if one of your core values is environmental sustainability, you might choose to prioritize eco-friendly practices in your daily life, such as reducing waste, using renewable energy sources, or supporting eco-conscious businesses.

Read more: A Guide to Impactful Sustainable Consumption 

Prioritize experiences over possessions

Shift your focus away from material possessions and instead prioritize experiences that enrich your life and create lasting memories. Invest your time and resources in activities that bring you joy, fulfillment, and personal growth.

Rather than purchasing the latest gadgets or luxury items, consider investing in experiences such as travel, outdoor adventures, or learning new skills. These experiences not only provide enjoyment in the moment but also contribute to your overall sense of well-being and fulfillment.

Read more: A Journey of Self-Discovery Through Travel 

Cultivate meaningful relationships

Nurture and prioritize relationships with friends, family, and community members who bring positivity and support into your life. Invest time and effort in building deeper connections and fostering meaningful interactions.

Make it a priority to regularly connect with loved ones through phone calls, video chats, or in-person gatherings. Show appreciation for the people in your life by actively listening, offering support, and being present during shared experiences.

Leaving a positive legacy

Instead of being afraid of death, find a desire to leave a meaningful legacy. Beyond material wealth, it’s about the impact you leave behind. Here are practical ways to build a positive legacy:

Contribute to causes

Invest your time, resources, or skills in causes that align with your values. Whether it’s volunteering for a nonprofit, donating to charity, or advocating for social change, your contributions can create a lasting impact.

Read more: From Service to Selflessness: How Volunteering Shapes Altruistic Ideals – Insights 

Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or animal shelter, donate to organizations fighting for environmental conservation or social justice, or participate in community clean-up efforts.

Document your legacy

Consider documenting your life story, values, and lessons learned for future generations. Through written memoirs, video recordings, or personal artifacts, preserving your legacy can inspire and educate future generations. 

Write a memoir detailing significant events, experiences, and life lessons, create a family tree or photo album to pass down through generations, or record video messages imparting wisdom and advice to your loved ones.

Initiating open conversations

You have the power to lead change by initiating open conversations about crucial end-of-life matters. For example, discussing your end-of-life wishes with your family and loved ones can ensure that your preferences are known and respected. This may include expressing your desire for organ donation, ensuring your next of kin is aware of your wishes, or detailing your preferences for medical care.

Additionally, creating a will is an important step in planning for the future. By outlining how you want your assets to be distributed and who you want to appoint as guardians for your children, you can provide clarity and peace of mind for your loved ones after you’re gone.

Moreover, developing a death plan, similar to a birth plan, can help ensure that your wishes are followed during the end-of-life process. This might include specifying your preferences for funeral arrangements, religious or spiritual ceremonies, and any other details that are important to you.

By addressing these topics openly and proactively, you ensure that your wishes are honored and reduce stress and uncertainty for your loved ones during a difficult time. Your willingness to have these conversations sets a positive example and encourages others to do the same, fostering a culture of preparedness and compassion surrounding end-of-life care.

In conclusion 

The pervasive fear and avoidance of death underscore the need for a deeper exploration of mortality.

By understanding the psychological, existential, and cultural dimensions of this fear, you can empower yourself to embrace mortality as an integral part of the human experience. Rather than succumbing to anxiety or denial, you can choose to live more fully and meaningfully by initiating conversations, practicing mindfulness, and living intentionally. 

In light of these insights, perhaps it’s time to ask yourselves: What would your life look like if you approached death not as an end but as an opportunity to live more fully?

If you would like to see more resources on age-related challenges, check out the Personal Resilience Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Visit the Personal Resilience Science Labs today.

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