Cultivating Death Acceptance
For as long as humans have been recording their history, death anxiety has been a pervasive theme. From Gilgamesh’s 4000-year-old laments over his own mortality, to recent attempts to preserve one’s body using cryogenics (an effort not dissimilar in its goal to the ancient Egyptian practice of mummification), our species has grappled with our own impermanence in myriad ways. Themes of mortality and the dread of death have appeared across the ages throughout art, literature, myth, ritual and philosophy. William James famously referred to our knowledge of our own mortality as “the worm at the core” of human existence, and, more recently, Yalom (2008) proposed that death anxiety may underlie much of human distress, casting a shadow over our daily life.
Death acceptance, the antidote to anxiety, may fit into three categories; escape, approach, and neutral. Escape acceptance embraces death as a welcome release from the suffering and pain of one’s life. Approach acceptance relies on the belief of a desirable afterlife. Neutral acceptance views death as a natural and necessary part of life, and something outside of one’s control.
Although all three types of death acceptance are associated with reduced levels of death fears, neutral acceptance appears to produce the lowest levels of death anxiety. Regarding death as part of the human experience can, in fact, be a positive force in our lives. Being in full acceptance of all of life’s experiences increases the quality of our lives because we allow ourselves to live without fear and stress.
Research shows that people who are more psychologically prepared for death tend to have less fear of dying. The same goes for the terminally ill. Those who accept their fate don’t seem to suffer as much from their disease. Acceptance can be a powerful tool in helping you overcome your fear of death.
Viewing death as an inevitable part of life helps you live a happier life free of fear, worry, or regret. Instead of spending your days anxious about death, you can focus on living in the present moment and being grateful for what you have. You don’t have to be happy about dying, but at least when it happens, you can feel content knowing that it was all part of a bigger plan.
Death acceptance is a two-step process: First, you must recognize that someday, no matter how much you try to avoid it, you will die. This may seem obvious, but many people fail to realize this simple fact until it’s too late. Second, you must learn to accept your fate. By doing so, you will feel more relaxed about the experience and hopefully worry less about the inevitable reality of death. Conquering this fear can have a huge impact on your life and your happiness. You may even find yourself enjoying life a lot more!
Summarized by Margaret Verschuur from an article by Marc Kraft.