We’ve begun a new year, and, as always, we look forward to the promise of what life will provide as we move forward into the year ahead. This is also traditionally the time we do a rethink of our lives for the coming year.
Appropriately, the New York Times featured an article in the “Sunday Review” section on Jan. 10, written by a contributing op-ed writer Arthur C. Brooks, “To Be Happier, Start Thinking More About Your Death.”
If you have not read it, I recommend you do. It’s well-written and confronts the universal question, “Am I making the right use of my scarce and precious life?”
The article points out how so many of our lives have spun out of our control. With so many choices and possible activities to fill our time, there’s not enough minutes in the day to do everything we’d like. We even have an acronym for a new condition born out of this — FOMO — fear of missing out. It’s created a new type of national anxiety.
The rub is that, for many of us, there is a disconnect between what we choose do with our time versus how we value each activity.
The rub is that, for many of us, there is a disconnect between what we choose do with our time versus how we value each activity. For example, the value system of many Americans places watching TV at the bottom of the “satisfaction” hierarchy and religious reflection at the top. Nonetheless, at least one study shows that we spend five times more of our lives watching TV than engaging in spiritual pursuits. We are at odds with our own values as to what we do with our time versus what we think we should do.
I noticed that Brooks’ article fails to consider our possible need to simply mentally check out at times, allowing our minds to run astray — relaxing on our own personal choice of mind candy. Are any of us ready to admit in a study that we’d rather enjoy mind candy then meditate or do yoga?
As Wired magazine reported last year, a global project is underway that may answer this. The Human Brain Project — a collaboration of various scientific organizations — is in the process of mapping the human brain. When the project is complete, we may finally understand our brain’s true needs.
Until then, Mr. Brooks suggests we consider “thinking about our demise” as a way to make better decisions about how we use our time. He references how Thai Buddhist monks use “corpse meditation” (yes literally) as a way to face their death to gain a better appreciation of life.
It’s a bit extreme and not exactly in line with our current age. But in time, as the natural death care movement gains popularity, we may well find ourselves (like the monks) sitting with our own dead. This is just starting to take place in our homes under the most loving and sensitive of circumstances.
Perhaps when we are comfortable bringing our dead back into our lives among our families, our relationship with death will become a positive force. It will teach us to think about the truth of our mortality as we consider how we choose to spend our time each day.