Thinking About Death, And How It Enriches Life

Thinking About Death, And How It Enriches Life

"I don't know if there's really any salvation, but if we accept death, maybe we can just live."

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What is your greatest fear? It is a question my friend Luis asked me a couple months ago, and one that we constantly deal with and think about.

I wasn't sure what it was at the time, but I knew what it wasn't. I don't fear dying as much as some people I do, as much as I probably should. I fear more perpetuating cycles of violence and abuse I have seen in my life, much greater than I do fear death. But this article is about death, and how thinking about it in the face or absence of our fears actually enriches our lives.

I don't want to die, but I do occasionally do think about whether the world would be a better place without me. It's a nagging thought, one I have thought much especially recently, that I have tried to put away as unreasonable. But death is undeniably on the forefront of my mind, now more than ever, in a way that perhaps concerns the people around me. Memento mori is a tattoo I have on my left abdomen: remember that you have to die. And by remembering I have to die, I try to make the most out of life and impart the most impact on others in this life.

But I argue that it's not a bad thing to think about death all the time, because there is a fine distinction between death and wanting to die. I know the protocol for suicidal ideation and making sure someone is safe, but thoughts of death have gone back a long time to the ancient Stoics. William Irvine, a philosophy professor at Wright State University, once wrote that "the Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be."

Irvine argues that instead of neglecting the things we fear and the worst things possible that can happen in our lives, we should, like the Stoics, imagine the worst case scenarios. Paradoxically, that is how we attain happiness, and one the greatest fears in much of our society is death, that we or the people we love are going to die. Happiness lies in much in gratitude, and death inspires gratitude. Stoics pride themselves in this gratitude of knowing and thinking about death, and living with the awareness that we should live with death on the forefront of our minds.

Human societies throughout all of history have invented methods to cope with our awareness of mortality. There is even a theory in social psychology called terror-management theory, in which all human thinking and behavior can be attributed to a fear of death. "Death anxiety" drives people to believe in their self-worth and self-esteem and believe that they are meaningful to the world. Inherently, we feel the deep need to make our marks on the world before we die, so we can manage the terror of living life insignificantly. People do what they do to curb their fear of dying.

Terror-management theory also deals with the sensation of immortality: we do things that immortalize our names and actions. All religion that also guarantees the promise of immortality, in the idea of afterlives, reincarnation, of heaven. But since not everyone is religious, and because for many people, the afterlives can be so distant and far-off, people strive for symbolic immortality. Through family who will carry on the name, or work that will carry on legacy, in the words of The Atlantic's Julie Beck, "people cling more intensely to the institutions they're part of, and the worldviews they hold."

Of course, everyone likes to distract themselves from thoughts of death. I know I do. We do things to extend our longevity, such as eating healthier. But these actions only distract us so much: death is always prominent in our unconscious and subconscious minds. People feel most driven to defend their worldviews and cultures in the face of it. In a terror-management study in the book The Worm at the Core, judges were asked how much they would set bail for alleged prostitutes. The standard bail was listed at $50, but judges who were asked to think about death right before setting bail put the bail nine times higher.

"The results show that the judges who thought about their own mortality reacted by trying to do the right thing...they held the law more vigorously than their colleagues who were not reminded of death," author Sheldon Solomon writes.

It seems, then, from these data that thinking about death is not actually a good thing: we stick more closely to our own worldviews and put others down. But that is not the only way people search for symbolic immortality - it is only one of the ways. According to Beck, "looming mortality can also lead people to help others, donate to charity, and want to invest in caring families and relationships." After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011, there were increases in love, hope, gratitude, and spirituality. Unfortunately, fear of Arabs and Muslims also increased significantly after the attacks.

It can be said then that thoughts of death intensifies and reinforces worldviews we already hold. Empathetic people are more likely to forgive others after a reminder that they have to die. Fundamentally religious people are more compassionate after a reminder of death when their values are depicted in a religious context, so values like kindness, empathy, hope, and compassion can be cultivated if we manage the terror of death in a suitable way.

Steven Heine, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC), says that death is a threat to our understandings of the world and how our assumptions about it works. When faced with mortality, we turn to other things to make sense of life. Death is not solvable, and something we can never resolve. But is that a bad thing? Think about if life were to never end - wouldn't it eventually lose meaning? The scarcity principle explains this phenomenon: the less we have of something, the more we value it.

But we don't live like life is finite. We don't live every day like it's our last. Laura King, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri in Columbia, says that "everybody always says life is too short, but it's really long. It's really,really long. Old people who know they are going to die soon live more in the present and forgive more.

I am speaking in paradoxes, and in many traditions, but E.M. Foster perhaps puts it best: "I don't know if there's really any salvation, but if we accept death, maybe we can just live."

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50 Things To Be Happy About

It's the little things in life.
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It is always easier to pick out the negatives in life. We tend to dwell on them and drown out the happy moments. I asked a friend to tell me something that made them happy. They sarcastically laughed at my question then thought about it for a minute. Nothing. But they could easily come up with things that made them unhappy. Then I read them my list, and they were smiling and laughing in agreement the whole time. There are so many more things to be happy and laugh about than we realize. After all- it's the little things in life that can mean the most! Here are 50 things that make me happy. What are your 50?

  1. The first warm day of the year
  2. Laughing so hard your abs ache
  3. Freshly washed sheets
  4. Looking through old pictures
  5. The smell of a coffee shop
  6. Eating cookie dough
  7. Reading a bible verse that perfectly fits your current situation
  8. Seeing someone open a gift you got them
  9. Eating birthday cake
  10. A shower after a long day
  11. Marking something off your to-do list
  12. Drinking ice cold water on a really hot day
  13. Dressing up for no reason
  14. Breakfast food
  15. Being able to lay in bed in the morning
  16. Finding something you love at the store
  17. And it’s on sale
  18. Cute elderly couples
  19. When a stranger compliments you
  20. Getting butterflies in your stomach
  21. Taking a nap
  22. Cooking something delicious
  23. Being lost for words
  24. Receiving a birthday card in the mail
  25. And there's money in it
  26. Finally cleaning your room
  27. Realizing how fortunate you are
  28. Waking up from a nightmare and realizing it wasn't real
  29. Fresh fruit
  30. Walking barefoot in the grass
  31. Singing along to a song in the car
  32. Sunrises
  33. Sunsets
  34. Freshly baked cookies with a glass of milk
  35. Summertime cookouts
  36. Feeling pretty
  37. Looking forward to something
  38. Lemonade
  39. Comfortable silences
  40. Waking up in the middle of the night and realizing you have more time to sleep
  41. Surviving another school year
  42. The cold side of the pillow
  43. The smell of popcorn
  44. Remembering something funny that happened
  45. Laughing to yourself about it
  46. Feeling weird about laughing to yourself
  47. Printed photographs
  48. Wearing a new outfit
  49. The sound of an ice cream truck
  50. Feeling confident
Cover Image Credit: Tumblr

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10 Struggles Only Anemics Will Understand

Popping (iron) pills is all we know.

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Anemia is a medical condition in which the blood lacks hemoglobin, the protein that is responsible for transporting oxygen. As a result, individuals diagnosed with it constantly feel weak and tired. I was born with thalassemia, a condition that destroys red blood cells and makes you more susceptible to getting anemia. There are many factors that cause the condition, but symptoms are consistent for sufferers.

Fun fact: 30% of the world's population is anemic.

1. Always forgetting to take your ferrous sulfate pills

My friends and family constantly hound me to eat them, in addition to the daily reminder I have set up on all of my devices, and I still manage to forget to take them most of the time. It's a bad habit considering we kind of need these to survive, you know.

2. "I'm tired" is a phrase too common to your vocabulary

I honestly say this so often that sometimes I'll straight up use it as an excuse to get out of social responsibilities. I'm not lying, though, it takes me an extraordinary amount of effort to do even the simplest of tasks because of how drained I always feel. I also apologize for constantly yawning, you're not boring, I'm just a lethargic piece of crap.

3. You dread the idea of working out

Sure, I'll be your workout buddy, you just have to put up with my constant breathlessness and need for rest breaks. I'd rather do something that involves little to no physical activity, though, so you wouldn't have to witness me panting and dying.

4. Constantly having those spontaneous shivers

You know exactly what I'm talking about — you'll be sitting in class, minding your business, and a random shiver will shoot down your body and make you tremble in the weirdest manner possible. I actually had someone sitting next to me ask me once if I was seizing.

5. Your extremities are always unusually cold

This is something I find myself having to explain a lot to people, especially when they grab my hands and ask me why they're "so cold." Because of the lack of oxygen circulating in our blood, not enough heat reaches our extremities, which in addition to hands also makes your nose, ears, and feet cold.

6. Cravings for weird ass objects

When I first started to develop anemia in middle school, I was drawn to the smells of gasoline, Wite-Out, fresh paint, Pine-Sol, the list went on. My friends looked at me like I was a druggie, but once I told my doctor she told me that this is a very common symptom of anemia, and actually is a condition termed "pica," which characterizes the craving for non-nutritive items. Some individuals actually start eating dirt to satisfy their cravings.

7. Having nosebleeds at the most random moments

I'm not sure if everyone can relate to this, but growing up I had a lot of nosebleeds, as did my twin brother who also is an anemic. I'll still have them occasionally, always at the worst times, too.

8. Sleeping for more than 12 hours and still feeling tired

There's really no difference between sleeping two hours and 15 hours for me because I'll still feel tired regardless. To top it off, caffeine exhibits no effects on me, so I just constantly look like a sleep-deprived bitch. These eye bags are Chanel, though.

9. All. Those. Damn. Blood. Tests.

I'm almost 20 years old, but I still ask for the butterfly needle (what they give to little children) at every appointment because of how much I dread needles. Like hi, your blood supply is already declining, but we'll just take out six more vials of your blood. The worst part? When they can't find your vein and start shimmying the needle around. Definitely not looking forward to my next doctor's appointment.

10.  Always feeling like a brand new person when you finally do remember to take your pills

Not sure if it's my body reacting to the increased amount of oxygen in my blood, or if it's just the placebo effect, but as soon as I take my iron pill, I feel like a boss-ass bitch. I just have to remember to do that more often.

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