Bummed Out About Dying? You Won't Be When the Time Comes
We all will die at some point. But new research sugests that we need not fret about dying because when the time comes, our emotions are not nearly as negative as you may expect.
Researchers at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined the writings of death row inmates and terminally ill patients in trying to identify the emotions expressed in the weeks and days leading up to death. What they found was that the emotions expressed in these writings are overwhelmingly meaningful and positive.
"When we imagine our emotions as we approach death, we think mostly of sadness and terror," says psychological scientist Kurt Gray of UNC Chapel Hill. "But it turns out, dying is less sad and terrifying--and happier--than you think."
This will give people like Seinfeld's death-obsessed George Costanza some solace and reason to go out and live their lives without wasting precious time and energy worrying about death.
"Humans are incredibly adaptive -- both physically and emotionally -- and we go about our daily lives whether we're dying or not," Gray explains. "In our imagination, dying is lonely and meaningless, but the final blog posts of terminally ill patients and the last words of death row inmates are filled with love, social connection, and meaning."
The researchers compared the blog posts of terminally ill patients and inmates on death row with another group of posts by volunteers who were told to write a blog while imagining that they were given only months to live. What the researchers found was that the terminally ill patients and the inmates on death row used more positive emotion words and less negative emotion words than did the volunteers who were just pretending to be dying.
Looking closer at the blog posts, researchers found that the use of positive emotion words increased as they neared death. The use of negative emotion words did not increase the closer to death they actually became. The blog posts of terminally ill patients and death row inmates also included subjects such as religion and family the closer to death they got. This suggests that these subjects may help with the anxiety of death as it approaches.
The study gives insight into the actual feelings of people as they are dying and suggests that the way we treat the dying may not be the best way to attend to someone who is facing life's final chapter.
"Currently, the medical system is geared toward avoiding death-an avoidance that is often motivated by views of death as terrible and tragic. This focus is understandable given cultural narratives of death's negativity, but our results suggest that death is more positive than people expect: Meeting the grim reaper may not be as grim as it seems." the researchers write in their paper.
This study has major implications on current debates about end of life care such as assisted suicide and the right to die which are both being debated in state legeslative houses across the country. Currently there are voter initiatives about assisted suicide in Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan and Maine. There are also court cases in Alaska, Florida, New York, Washington and the U.S Supreme Court.
So stop worrying about death and go out and live your life. Death will come, but it will be much happier than you expect. Think of the Grim Reaper with a cake and a party hat instead of a dark robe and a sickle.