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."

Ryan Fan
Ryan Fan
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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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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.
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Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

From an outside perspective, suicidal thoughts are rarely looked into deeper than the surface level. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is that people live in between those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble, and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead.

You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling, whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die?" or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255


Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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How To Rock Your Natural Curly Hair This Summer & All Year Long

CALLING ALL CURLY HAIRED GIRLS: It's our season!

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All of your friends and your favorite famous idols all have long, straight hair. You take hours or get treatments on your natural curls to keep your hair straight, when in reality you are ruining the gorgeous curls that you should be rocking! I know it's hard to keep your curls under control, but with the right product and effort you can rock your curls all summer long. Curly hair is in! Here's how to rock your natural hair all summer long.

1. Coconut oil is your BFF.

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Whether it's in your conditioner or you use it as a spray or leave-in product, coconut oil is a great way to keep your hair shiny and frizz-free. For those of you who often straighten your hair, coconut oil can help tame and treat your damaged ends. Conditioners and products with coconut oil in them are always my go-to products. I would but this on this list 10 times if that would make you use it!

2. Stay by the pool.

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If my friends want to do something and I am having a bad hair day, I always suggest the pool. Not only can curls give you a beautiful thick messy bun, but my friends are always jealous of how good my hair looks in the pool. Curly hair, wet from the pool, is like a magic trick. Your hair will instantly look better.

3. Dye your hair!

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If you are like me and can't stand having your hair look the same 24/7, I have found dying my hair keeps me from wanting to straighten my hair or want to change it. Dying your curls will make whatever color you get really pop and keep you feeling fun and exciting in your natural hair journey. You don't have to do anything too drastic either! Sometimes so highlights or a lighter color is all you need.

4. Rock the pouf!

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Get that hair as big and crazy as you can get it, and ROCK IT! Don't let that volume and texture go to waste. Own your curls and wear them big.

5. Use a bandana or headbands for control & extra cuteness.

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When my hair gets a little more out of hand than I like, I opt for a headband or bandana to help style it. With curls, your hair has texture and can actually hold a headband in place. CVS and Walmart offer a large (and cheap) assortment of headbands and bandanas for all of your curly hair needs.

6. Braid parts of your hair to give your hair depth or add control.

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Sometimes a french braid on the side or over the top can not only make it look like you really took the time to style your hair, but also add control to your everyday look. I like to braid my hair when I know it is going to get frizzy or just want to slick down the top and rock a pouf in the back.

7. Invest in a good conditioner & hair mask.

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While you are relaxing with your face mask, why not do a hair mask at the same time? A hair mask is a great way to hydrate your curls and get them bouncy, conditioned, and frizz-free. You can find a variety of good hair masks for under 15$ and you can use them 2-3 times a week.

8. Get bangs... or just fake them!

Maddie Hilliard

This one is #RISKYAF, but you don't actually have to cut your hair to get bangs. I use bobby pins to pin up my hair to give the illusion that I have bangs. It is great when you want to switch up your look or rock a ponytail or bun. Which leads me to my next point...

9. Bobby pins, bobby pins, bobby pins!

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Use bobby pins to hold your hair in place and control your hair while you go for a messy look! I pin my bangs to the side with bobby pins or use them to hold certain pieces in place. They are especially helpful for updo looks!

10. Comb your hair while you're in the shower.

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To avoid breakage and breaking apart your curls it is always best to comb your hair while you're showering. You need to condition your hair (to avoid breakage) and comb the conditioner through it until all of the knots are out. If your hair keeps getting caught in the comb and the knots aren't coming out, put more conditioner in your hair to help. Finish your shower and then rinse the conditioner out at the end. And BAM! Tangle and frizz-free curls. PRO TIP: Use a wide tooth comb, never a brush!

11. Invest in a hair turban towel.

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You can get these on Amazon, at TJ Maxx, at CVS, and the list goes on. Instead of drying your hair with a regular towel and making it frizzy, wrap it in a hair turban to get the wetness out while keeping it moisturized. Hair turbans will help keep in all of the moisturizer and conditioner locked into your hair after showers.

12. Use scrunchies instead of hair ties.

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Not only are they super cute to wear on your wrist, but they also won't crease your curls if you need to tie them up quickly. Scrunchies are also great because they can be tied loose and not damage or smash your curl pattern. I haven't used a hair tie in years and don't plan on using one anytime soon.

12. Be proud & rock the f*ck out of your hair.

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Healthy and loved natural hair will never do you dirty. Love your curls because 9/10 people wish their straight hair had the same texture yours does! Curly hair is a whole look, let's start appreciating it more!

Love your natural hair and get inspired by all of the tips and pics of super fab curly hair!

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