It must have been more than a decade since I read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Among other ideas, a thought experiment in the book stayed with me over the years. That is imagining your own funeral.
Maybe, the idea was dramatic. Maybe, it’s the fact that I discussed it with my family. Or maybe, it’s the combination of both that made it stick in my mind, but to this date, that idea still fascinates me.
The underlying idea of the funeral exercise is to remember your own death, or memento mori as it is referred to in philosophy. The whole idea is sobering, especially the formulation by Pema Chödrön.
“Since death is certain and the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?” Pema Chödrön
Sometimes, I’m looking forward to a weekend or a vacation. Then, that weekend or vacation comes to an end in a heartbeat. I don’t even understand what happened. Nowadays, I remind myself that fact in the first few hours of a weekend or a vacation.
“This weekend or vacation will end in a heartbeat. Soon, it will be Sunday evening. Soon, I’ll be on an airplane traveling back. What do I want to make of this weekend or vacation?”
I can’t help but think about the same about my life. Even though that last day seems to be too far to be concerned with, I know that when it comes, it will feel like it came too soon. On that last day, I don’t want to feel like I have wasted my life .
You might think that I’m being pessimistic and dark. That’s not my intention at all. Thinking about my own death can feel sad at times, but at the same time, it incites the desire to make the most of my life. In a way, memento mori makes me think carpe diem, seize the day, because I have one opportunity to live and it can end any time.
Thinking about your own death can help you let go of what doesn’t serve you in your life. Do you really want to have spent your days being glued to your smartphone, hung out with people that you don’t care about, or indulged in whatever your bad habit is?
Do you really want to have spent your life working for the future only? Some people are only interested in their legacy. That’s fine if that’s what you want. But I also want to have experienced some beautiful memories in my life.
Sure, my work in the past provides me with a life that I’m grateful today, but it’s the memories of exceptional moments that make me glad that I was alive for 39 years.
It’s important to have a decent lifestyle, but it’s also important to collect some memorable moments throughout your life. So, I’d rather balance both as I go through my life. And we’re all better off letting go of our habits that serve neither.