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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.”




Image Acknowledgements


I’ve got bad news and good news.

The bad news is that the world is messed up and life is hard.

The good news is that not everything is messed up and humans get better at dealing with bad news as we grow.

bad_news_vs-300x161The bad news is that it is hard to keep perspective in a world where war, violence, disease, crime, and struggle make up the major part of the information that we consume.

The good news is that perspective and attitude can be balanced by intentionally adding positive information to your media diet.

I am not advising affirmations, inspirational quotes and feel-good stories.

I am referring to developments and events in economics, business, medicine, science, technology, environment, politics, education, athletics, culture and society that work towards the general well-being of people and planet.

Real moments of progress and purpose happen all the time, though you’d not suspect that from the major news media or the trolls of talk radio and TV.

Given the negativity of our major news media it seems rational for intelligent caring people to avoid it, but those are precisely the people who the world needs to be best informed; and by people I mean you.

The resources referred to in this article with annotations and more are available at Dr. Tech’s Bookmarks.

So if to you the world appears to be going to dystopia in a hand basket, please consider some alternative information; for instance.

Crime overall in the United States has declined steeply and steadily since the early 1990’s and is approaching an[2]time low; this is especially true for violent crime. 1

No one knows why crime is declining and none of the usual explanations hold for this trend.

Steven Pinker – Harvard University – thinks that he does know why violence is declining and in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” (2011) argues that violence and cruelty have been diminishing through most of human history and that we are headed towards a more peaceful and humane future.

Russian geneticist Dmitri Belyaev (1917-1985) conducted a remarkable experiment that showed that the domestication of silver foxes changed both belyaev_silver_foxesthe personalities and physical traits of the animals; they became gentler and cuter. 2

Some contemporary researchers believe that similar changes are occurring in the human species; that is, we are becoming gentler and more physically juvenile than our ancestors; this research is recounted in a RadioLab episode titled “New Nice.”

Research these ideas for yourself and also check out where the Annual Edge Question is posed to a lot of brilliant people in order to “arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.”

In particular I recommend the 2007 issue “What Are You Optimistic About?”

Read the GoodNewsNetwork (GNN) which reports real news that is also good news.

GNN editor Geri Weis-Corbley landed a job with TV network CNN just out of college. She told her boss; “There should be a good news show. He informed me that good news doesn’t sell — but the idea gnawed at me like sand in an oyster.”

She quit CNN, started GNN and became the first expert in the field of positive news in the U.S.

In the U.K. there is Positive News, a “solution-focused newspaper, reporting on people and initiatives that are creating a sustainable, just and fulfilling world.”

The DailyGood is another credible source which leans to the inspirational side of information.

You already know where to get the bad news and perhaps were exposed to plenty of it – along with expert commentaries from relatives – over the holiday break.

Now you know where to look for credible positive news.

Using those sources is a rational way to balance your media diet in order to draw grounded inferences about the world. 3

If you know of quality good news sources and good ideas of any kind, please send them to me.

Have a good dead week and don’t let the stress get you down – Dr. Tech believes in you.


1 Truman, JL. (2011). Criminal Victimization, 2011. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

2 Bidau, C.J.  Domestication through the Centuries: Darwin’s Ideas and Dmitry Belyaev’s Long-Term Experiment in Silver Foxes. Gayana 73(Suplemento), 2009.

3 Aquino, K. and McFerran, B. (2011). Moral Identity and the Experience of Moral Elevation in Response to Acts of Uncommon Goodness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 100, No. 4, 703–718

Image Sources (Creative Commons and public domain)


Violent and property victimization, 1993–2013


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