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Thinking of death strengthens life

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An awareness of mortality can improve physical health and help to prioritize goals and values according to a new study. Even non-conscious thinking about death could stir positive changes.

It seem logical that dwelling on death would cause dangerous and even destructive outcomes. Terror management theory (TMT) posits that people uphold cultural beliefs to manage feelings of mortality, but the positive side of hadn’t been explored.

“This tendency for TMT research to primarily deal with negative attitudes and harmful behaviors has become so deeply entrenched in our field that some have recently suggested that death awareness is simply a bleak force of social destruction,” said Kenneth Vail of the University of Missouri, lead author. “There has been very little integrative understanding of how subtle, day-to-day, death awareness might be capable of motivating attitudes and behaviors that can minimize harm to oneself and others, and can promote well-being.”

Thinking about death also promotes better health. When people are reminded of death prior to making some choice, they will opt for the healthier choice, like using sunscreen, smoking less or increasing exercise or performing a breast self-exam.

One major implication of the studies is that we should “turn attention an research efforts toward better understanding of how the motivations triggered by death awareness can actually improve people’ lives, rather than how it can cause malady and social strife,” according to the report. “The dance with death can be a delicate but potentially elegant stride toward living the good life.”

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Society for Personality and Social Psychology

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