I think about death a lot.
Not in the Marla Singer sort of way. In the life-is-short-and-precious sort of way. It helps calm the chaos of my mind when I get overwhelmed, which is often. I think, maybe if people were reminded more about death, they would find a meaningful sense of purpose. Maybe they would lead better lives, appreciate what matters most, focus on taking care of themselves.
I research this. It’s called mortality salience. And it, in fact, makes people more stressed out, selfish, and sinister. This is frustrating to me. Why? The regrets of the dying have to do with wishing they didn’t worry so much and had spent more time with their loved ones. No one regrets having not been more vindictive or narcissistic.
But it’s true. Warning labels on cigarettes make people more likely to smoke. Because being reminded you’re going to die apparently is a distressing thought that spurs self-abuse. I don’t think of it that way. I think of death as a gift — one that serves as a reminder to focus on joy.
Joy is not happiness. It is not fun. It’s not even pleasure. Joy is authenticity. It comes from embracing who you are. It draws the best out of you. Joy is a verb, something you do every day. It feels effortless because it’s a natural flow from your very being. It’s the highest kind of fulfillment.
People talk about mind-body connection as if they are separate entities. Not true. The mind is the body. The body is the mind. Many pieces fit together, just so, to create a healthy existence. It’s easy enough to learn how to eat and exercise. It’s not news that sleep is important. What no one tells you is that being yourself is just as vital for your health.
When I think of death, I think of how I want to live today. It may be my last. You never know. I want to spend my time doing what is meaningful to me. I want to pour my energy into understanding the world around me and learning how to leave it a better place. I want a sense of peace knowing that I don’t fear being myself.
This life is all I have. I try to make the most of it. Joy helps me do that.
Rachel Granzow has her Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. She’s a health coach and wellness educator devoted to helping people feel better in and about their bodies.