Thinking About Death Can Make For a Good Life

04/23/2012

Cemetery photoOne of the premises of Buddhism is meditation on death. At first it scared me and then I gave it a try. The meditation focused on the sacred nature of life and how death could happen at any time. Rather than scaring me, it actually helped me to focus on living in the moment and trying to take full advantage of my sacred life. 

Contemplation and meditation on death and impermanence are regarded as very important in Buddhism and one of the main reasons is recognizing how precious this life you've been given truly is instead of taking it for granted.

Living Close to a Cemetery 

It turns out that meditating on death or thinking about it on a regular basis is scientifically proven to help you have a better life. According to an article in Science Daily, it can help you improve physical health and re-prioritize goals and values. Even non-conscious thought about death can have an impact, including walking past a cemetery.

One study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 2008 found that being near a cemetery impacts how people will treat a stranger. Researchers followed people that lived near a cemetery, some of them lived a few blocks away, out of sight and the others had it in view. 

As a part of the study actors talked to people at both locations about the values of helping others. Later, another actress in the study dropped her notebook and researchers observed who stopped to help her. 

"When the value of helping was made salient, the number of participants who helped the second confederate with her notebook was 40% greater at the cemetery than a block away from the cemetery," says Kenneth Vail of the University of Missouri, lead author of the new study in the online edition of Personality and Social Psychology Review. "Other field experiments and tightly controlled laboratory experiments have replicated these and similar findings, showing that the awareness of death can motivate increased expressions of tolerance, egalitarianism, compassion, empathy, and pacifism.

Other studies have shown that reminding people about death leads them to make healthier life choices. I find being constantly thankful for this life helps us to realize that it's our responsiblity to take full advantage of it. 

Photo: Brand X

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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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