How Reading About Death Can Change Your Life by Karen Wyatt
A reading group about death, dying and the afterlife intends to increase death awareness across the country.
For more than a century modern society has been intentionally oblivious to the reality of death. Once dying and death were removed from the home and every-day life by the increased availability of hospitals and funeral homes, it was relatively easy to shove death out of awareness and make it a taboo subject. There was even a belief for a time that thinking about death was pathological and destructive.
But now we know that death awareness—including thinking and reading about death—has positive benefits, thanks to research that has been done in recent years. An article* by Kenneth Vail and colleagues from the University of Missouri includes a review of multiple studies on the impact of becoming aware of death and the findings are impressive:
Death awareness leads to increased helping behaviors.
People who had recently been reminded of death were more likely to help a stranger in need. In fact, increased death awareness correlated with an increase in positive factors like compassion, tolerance, and empathy. When we understand that life is fleeting we tend to focus more on the things that really matter, which includes the wellbeing of others for many of us.
Those aware of death are more likely to care about the environment.
Again the understanding that life is fragile can lead us to care more about all of life, including the natural life that surrounds us and the life of our planet as well. Those who do not deny that death is part of the cycle of life are more inclined to be careful with that life in all its forms
Death awareness corresponds with compassion toward those from other groups.
Studies have shown that members of certain fundamentalist religious groups who experienced an increase in death awareness were more likely to exhibit compassion and tolerance toward those of other religions. Peace becomes a more valued commodity when we recognize that our lives have a limited time frame.
Awareness of death leads to healthier behaviors.
It may seem obvious but studies have validated that people who are aware of their mortality tend to make better choices for their overall health. Quitting smoking, increasing exercise, doing breast self-exams, and even using sunscreens are all behavior changes that have been linked to death awareness. We cherish life more when we know it won’t last forever.
The results of these studies show us that our entire society can benefit from getting out of denial and becoming more openly aware of death. In fact, it appears from this information that many of the problems that currently afflict humankind could be alleviated with better awareness of and education about death.
One of the ways to increase death awareness is through reading books that provide factual information about all aspects of the end of life. In addition, inspiring stories about the end of life can help us see beyond our fears and get comfortable with the reality of death. Books have the capacity to take us outside our usual experience and expose us to new ideas that stretch our boundaries.
In addition, by reading the stories of others who are coping with mortality we learn that all of us face the same struggles as humans here on planet Earth. The challenges we share are far greater than the differences that exist between us.
James Baldwin wrote: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
By reading books about death and dying we can increase our own death-awareness and prepare ourselves to be a source of information and inspiration for others.
To foster this type of positive growth through reading a unique new reading group called “A Year of Reading Dangerously” was created 2018 and has continued each year since then. The group explores death, dying and the afterlife by reading one book on these subjects each month during the year and holding online discussions about selected books.
You can join more than 1200 people around the world who are all learning about death together by signing up here. You have much to gain by reading about death … in fact, it will change your life!