Why Thinking of Dying Can Potentially Make You Happier

Bhutan is known as one of the happiest countries in the world. It’s also known as a country that measures the happiness level of its citizens (Gross National Happiness) as the primary parameter of its development instead of measuring its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) which most other countries measure.

With this unique focus, Bhutan has attracted many tourists and journalists who seek to find the secret of this happiness country.

So, what is the secret of Bhutan’s happiness?

Embracing the Dark Side

Eric Weiner explained one interesting idea in his article titled ‘Bhutan’s Dark Secret to Happiness.’ He tells that people in Bhutan habitually and consciously think about death every single day.

They believe that the idea of death should be ingrained in their daily lives so that they can accept the idea without being fearful of it. This is common sense to them. Embracing every element of life as it is (including the dark side of it) without judging or covering up helps them stay being humble and grateful. Death, to the Bhutanese, is a symbolic and important moment as much as birth.

Interestingly in so many other countries, speaking of death is quietly regarded as taboo. Not many ask their friends “what’s your plan for your death?” as a topic of interest. Death is something we think we need to try to avoid at all cost. Speaking or thinking of it feels like a terrible, uncaring thing to do.

But can it be possible that our avoidance of death has made our lives less happy?

Planning for Your Death: Good or Bad?

While death actually happens to everyone, we don’t really think of it. And that’s especially when we are young and well.

But when people don’t plan for their death, there can be extra devastation caused for those who are left behind. It’s not just the grief, sadness and emotional devastation experienced by them. Parents’ death can cause children custody issues. Family members of the deceased might fight over their shares of inheritance. Or they may suffer because of the inheritance tax they cannot afford to pay. Or a company that suddenly lost the key leader might have to close down, leaving many team members suddenly jobless…

Many of these challenges and much of the extra stress can be reduced if things were planned and documented. And our lack of thinking about death leads to the fact that more than half the adult population in most countries do not have wills.

I was one of them.

When I Thought About my Own Death…

I’m 42. I have two children aged 12 and 15. I run a social enterprise with a long-term goal. I’m healthy and fit. I’m definitely not intending to die soon and I’m not rich enough to worry about my descendants fighting over my estate. I didn’t think I needed a will…

But recently, I became a friend with someone whose profession is to help people create wills and trusts, so I decided to create one. Mostly because I wanted to make sure my children’s well-being would be taken care of if something unexpected happened to me while they are still underage.

As I started the process and started asking friends and family members whether they could help if something happened and I died early, their initial reaction was “Do we really need to talk about it now? You are still so young and healthy!” But after all, they all willingly cooperated, and even thanked me for asking them a favour. I also discussed with my children openly what their wishes were if I was no longer here with them. And quite surprisingly, none of these conversations were negative. We actually had very pleasant conversations….about my death.

During this process, I also felt deeply grateful for everyone who had contributed to my life. I felt grateful for the family and friends, colleagues and customers… I really wanted to make sure things go smoothly when I’m gone. I wanted everyone I care about to simply feel more connected through my departure.

I realised that thinking of death as an everyday possibility and planning for it somewhat helped me clarify how I wanted to live my life and what I wanted to leave for my family.

Leaving Money Vs. Leaving a Legacy

Many (if not most) people feel that they want to leave financial security for their children. All parents want their children to have happy life. And most agree that having plenty of money makes life easier.

But when it comes to happiness, study after study finds that people who have earned their wealth are happier than those who have inherited it.

A poll conducted by a financial management company in the US targeted more than 1,500 Americans with more than $500,000 in investible assets. It found that 76 percent of people who have earned their wealth felt less stress and worries around financial matters as compared to 50 percent of those who had inherited their wealth. This same study also found that a full 50 percent of men and women who had inherited their wealth felt that it caused more problems than it solved. —Ref. 3

Subsequently, a Gallup survey of 450,000 Americans in 2008 and 2009 found that the ideal income for happiness, measured as ‘day-to-day contentment’, reached a plateau at $75,000. Up until this level of income was achieved, there was a direct correlation between incremental increases in income and increases in happiness. After this point, people could acquire more ‘stuff’, but their happiness would reach a plateau.

So, this says that helping our children become capable to take care of their own future can be far more important than trying to leave bigger inheritance to ensure their future happiness.

Leaving a Real Legacy

The process of thinking and planning for my own death helped me understand the consequences of unfinished work, unclear arrangements and neglected communications. It also helped me discuss seemingly sensitive topics with my family members openly.

Now more than ever, I’m encouraged to ask different questions each day: Have I expressed my gratitude to those I love? Have I put in my best effort to support my children to become independent and valuable to the world? Have I supported others to become integral future leaders in our company to carry on with the mission?

Each day goes fast, and we always have unfinished business. But as we think of own death periodically, we might do a better job today to live our lives more fully – as parents, as business leaders and as individuals trying to leave legacies we aspire for.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” 

Mahatma Gandhi

Starting to write my own will lead to many things this year. As I write this blog, we are spring-cleaning our entire house, getting ready for another satisfying year ahead.

Wishing you, your family and friends a special holiday season too!


If you want to do more to create positive impact…

You can learn more about the art of making improvements in Masami’s latest book “GIVING BUSINESS: Creating The Maximum Impact in the Meaning-Driven World”.

You can also download the free e-book to find out how you can maximize the impact of your life and business from here.

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