A middle aged woman holding a necklace in a cemetary

Do you think about death, or do you pretend it’s not an inevitability? Is embracing the reality of death a better approach than ignoring it?

If you avoid thinking about death, you’re in the majority. Most people today ignore death because it’s not fun to think about. But, Sadhguru argues that this avoidance leads to suffering.

Read more to learn why you should accept death, acknowledging its inevitability in a measured way.

Accept Death

Sadhguru writes that you should healthily accept death and avoid two extremes related to the issue: ignoring death altogether and trying to avoid death by not living a full life. Let’s take a look at these two extremes and Sadhguru’s recommended alternative.

Many people in today’s society suffer because they constantly avoid thinking about their deaths. But, why is this? For one, Sadhguru asserts that, for some people, ignoring death causes suffering because it prevents them from appreciating the time they have. Unless someone recognizes that every second of their life is one they’ll never get back, they’ll frequently waste time and energy on things that don’t matter. For example, they might get into petty fights with others and worry about parts of life they can’t change. Such time-wasting only makes life less enjoyable.

Other people go to the opposite extreme: Instead of ignoring death completely, they try to avoid death at all costs. They want to live a comfortable, predictable, and unchanging life with as little risk and danger as possible. However, Sadhguru maintains that this kind of life is practically the same as being dead already, and it leaves these people depressed and aimless.

(Shortform note: In The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt note another potential danger of obsessing over your safety: If you avoid all risk in life, you’ll become less resilient and react with anxiety when you inevitably end up in risky situations. Like Sadhguru, Lukianoff and Haidt link safety obsession to depression, but they also link it to the rise in generalized anxiety that has plagued society in recent years.)

In contrast, Sadhguru argues that acknowledging the inevitability of death helps you cultivate gratitude for everything in life. When you were born, all of the wonderful things in your life were freely given to you. When you die, you’re not losing anything—only giving back life’s gifts after having thoroughly enjoyed them. Recognizing this fact will help you enjoy life more: Rather than being constantly afraid of losing everything you have, you can focus on appreciating and enjoying life’s gifts as much as you can.

(Shortform note: In Bittersweet, Susan Cain agrees that, when you accept death, you can cultivate feelings of gratitude. Additionally, she notes that an increased awareness of death often triggers these good feelings even if people aren’t intentionally seeking them out. For instance, people with terminal illnesses or living in areas of civil unrest, forced into awareness of their mortality, naturally become more appreciative of the existing joys in their lives. Objectively speaking, these situations are brutally unfair, but—judging by these responses—it seems that humans instinctively see life as a gift.)

Terror Management Theory: When a Culture Avoids Thoughts of Death

Some modern psychologists concur that people’s unwillingness to acknowledge their mortality drives much of their behavior. This idea is at the core of Terror Management Theory (TMT), a psychological framework first proposed by anthropologist Ernest Becker in his 1973 book The Denial of Death.

According to TMT, the goal motivating most humans is to achieve immortality. This could either be literal immortality, through religious faith in an afterlife, or symbolic immortality: establishing a meaningful legacy, like starting a business or raising a family. Psychologists refer to the strong belief in one particular kind of immortality as a cultural worldview.

Research supports the idea that such cultural worldviews are a defense mechanism against the fear of mortality. For instance, studies have found that when people are forced to think about death, they become more attached to their cultural worldviews. They forge stronger bonds with those with similar worldviews and show more hostility toward people with opposing ones. This aligns with Sadhguru’s idea that refusing to accept the inevitability of death will cause you to perpetuate conflict and worry about things that don’t matter. Instead, Sadhguru recommends that you accept death as inevitable, which will allow you to disengage from ideology and its pitfalls altogether.

Exercise: Reflect on Your Mortality

Sadhguru asserts that becoming fully aware of your mortality is the key to living a fulfilling life. Reflect on the idea of your death and discover how it makes you feel.

  1. Describe your relationship to the idea of death. To what extent are you afraid of it, and why?
  2. Close your eyes and imagine in vivid detail what you think your death will look like. Write a description of the scene.
  3. How does imagining your death make you feel?
  4. Has visualizing your death changed anything about the way you view your life in the present? If so, how? What could you do differently tomorrow in light of these new thoughts and feelings?
Accept Death—and Avoid Needless Suffering (Sadhguru)

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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