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Tdad@92his first spring day my father turned 92.  He was in the hospital for a fall, but without much damage, so he bounced back fast.

His room provides a terrific view of the harbor and snow capped Mount Baker of the North Cascades.

The hospital staff conveyed one key point – Dad has a great sense of humor.  Everyone who knows him will concur.  Whether I live past 60 or 100 I know that the soul of wit and levity is too dear to be lost.  Forsaking humor for the sake of discomfort or fear is to lose all.

My father taught me patience of a particular sort born of persistent focus such as time may not weaken.  Humor sharpens focus and disassembles diversion, hence reinforcing patience.

I visit my folks every month and am looking forward to Dad’s 93rd day of birth when we may share a laugh in the new spring morning.

 

storytellingA recurring topic at Death Café Corvallis is the legacy.  This may be material inheritance such as money and property, it may be creative inheritance such as a beautiful garden, it may be moral inheritance such as the impact of one’s actions in the world, and it may be communicative inheritance such as the story of your life.

Some people bequeath the story of their lives to their successors by writing memoirs or an autobiography.  Not all of us have time or skill to write a book, but we all have the resources to write our own story.  Writing your story has powerful benefits for your loved ones when you are gone and for your self while you are present.

A valuable guide to writing your story in preparation for your death is Having the Last Say by Alan Gelb.  He provides a practical workflow for developing a single story that conveys meaning from your life.  Gelb describes his process in an interview with thanatologist Gail Rubin – The Consequences of Death.

An interesting element of Gelb’s book is the set of questions that he poses throughout in order to prompt reflection and creativity. Questions such as;

When has my mind and body ever felt in perfect harmony?

If I had to relive moments in my life, which one’s would they be?

If I had to imagine a place in the world that puts me at total peace, what is that place?

Just having these questions is valuable to anyone who thinks about death. They are certainly provocative of personal creativity for addressing a topic that some findmel_blanc_gravestone_505x278 daunting – the story of your own life.

Notably, Gelb emphasizes that the project of value in writing your story is not in order to create a summary or evaluation of your life.  Quite simply you are telling a story about your experience that has significance for you.  That is enough to convey rich meaning for others.  I propose that Gelb’s idea is worth an effort for everyone. Consider the following propositions (mine):

Proposition: we cannot understand what death is unless we understand what life is. 

Corollary: in order to effectively conceptualize our own death, we must accurately conceptualize our own life.

The beauty of Gelb’s approach is that any part of our life experience that has significance for us is sufficient for that conceptualization, in part anyway.

At the least your story will provide content for your survivors as they find need to speak about you and think about you.  At best you may find personal growth through meaning making about that most rare and precious topic – you.

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Image Acknowledgements

CC Search – https://creativecommons.org/

Philippe de Champaigne, Still Life With SkullThat there is a relation between thinking about death and happiness is undeniable because some thoughts about death make almost all of us unhappy.  Thinking about the deaths of those we love – both retrospective and prospective – leaves normal people with sadness.  Experiencing the death of a loved one is an unhappy time.  Contemplating the unjust and preventable deaths in the world is enough to evoke melancholy in even the most stoic of us.  Contemplating our own immanent death is a mixed emotional situation at best (unless one strongly wishes to die, but that is a different issue).  So, what sense is there in which thinking about death could be construed as a method of increasing happiness?

Karen Wyatt draws from Tibetan and Taoist traditions in a recent article; “How Thoughts of Death Can Be A Key to Happiness.”  She considers specific techniques used in mystical practices that may both lessen the impact of our anxiety about death and even raise our spirits in conceiving of death altogether.

In effect, the six death thought techniques that Wyatt summarizes include:

    • Ritualize
    • Relax
    • Enjoy
    • Improve
    • Broaden
    • Record

The techniques are practical and easy to employ.  If one has strong negative feelings about death, then more therapeutic and perhaps guided approaches may be appropriate.  Still, we can all gain value from these practices.

I’ll add a seventh technique to Wyatt’s list;

  • Dialog

Finding open and intelligent people who will listen and discuss your ideas about death is a powerful way to address the emotional impacts of those ideas.

Death Café Corvallis is all about open dialog about death.  I find the participation in conversational liberty to be a strengthening and spirit lifting activity in its own right.  When related to to concepts of death, the impact is often pronounced.  You are invited to Death Café Corvallis gatherings and to join the Facebook Group in order to get event announcements and online dialog.

Karen M. Wyatt, M.D. is the Author of “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying” and “The Tao of Death.”

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Image Acknowledgements

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https://www.pinterest.com/pin/354517801894454820/

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