Why Mortality Makes Life Worth Living


At TED this year they ended the final day of talks with a reminder of mortality. A fictional monologue was given from a character living hundreds of years in the future—in a future where human beings live 500+ years and death is seen as a failure. She talks of how perfect her world of near-mortality was, until her wife gets diagnosed with cancer and is “sent back to Earth to die”. Her wife takes dying with grace, and embraces her own mortality, whereas the narrator has a harder time accepting the inevitable.

The moral of the story was an obvious one: in a world where humans live longer and longer—and immortality is just around the corner—life becomes bland and pointless.

Death gives life a due date. Our human existence is bookmarked by birth, when we come into this world, and death, when we depart it. If life is a train route, death is the end of the line.

I could write a lot more on why it’s “right” or healthy to embrace your mortality and on the current debates on “curing aging” versus aging gracefully. But instead (since as of this writing we have not found a way to be immortal) let’s just all agree on the fact that we are all going to die.

That being said… ENJOY YOUR LIFE.

Live like your life depends on it.

Live the life of your dreams or die trying.

I could continue with the pithy one liners but I’ll stop…

The take away is mortality actually makes life worth living, if we chose to look at the world through this framework.

Ricardo Semler in his talk on building a company with very few rules, discloses how he sets aside one day a week to be his “terminal day”. This means each Monday he wakes up and thinks “if I was diagnosed with a terminal illness today, what would I do differently”.

It’s a great practice.

Facing my own mortality through the last 4 months of deep research on everything end of life has made me a happier, calmer, and at least IMHO a nicer person.

I’ve been able to be more present and deal with everything from an annoying bank teller to a 24-hour Delta flight from hell with a smile—because if it was my last day on earth I’d relish the sounds of the airport, the hot coffee in my mug and the warmth of my partner as I hug him in an attempt to stop him from strangling the smart ass ticket clerk.

So, before you start your busy week, take a few moments and think about your own mortality—and how you have a set number of years (maybe even months) left living on this earth, in this life.

Then go read this article by palliative nurse Bronnie Ware, on the top things that people who were terminal told her they regretted. Here’s the gist:

  1. Live the life you want, not the one you think others want from you.
  2. Don’t work so hard.
  3. Don’t stifle your feelings.
  4. Make, and keep, meaningful relationships.
  5. “Let” yourself be happy.

Immortality: a fate worse than death. – Edgar Shoaff