Happiness: A Theory — Fear of Death

Happiness: A Theory — Fear of Death

Why do we abhor death? Why don’t we conceive of death as a pleasant reward at the end of a life of travail? As far as we can tell, death is a state in which we are relieved of every unpleasant aspect of our lives. No pain, no nagging, no angst, no depression, just peace. What’s so bad about that?

Death is a salient characteristic of our species. There is no escaping it, as far as we can tell. So why waste time in a state of alienation from something inevitable, every bit as much a part of what we are as anything else about us?

Other animals do not seem to wander around in a funk,, burdened by the awareness that one day things will all come to an end. In large measure, this situation may be explained by their comparatively less sophisticated neural circuitry. But if there is nothing intrinsically despicable about death, why despise it?

One answer may be as follows: A being of sufficient intelligence to contemplate its inevitable demise must despise it, or it stands a good chance of failing to replicate. Putting it differently, whoever among our predecessors failed to despise death may not have hung around long enough to participate in the gene pool.

If we conceive of our abhorrence of death as simply a convenient piece of programming for a hominid brain, we may be freed to view death in a more benign way. A pretty good deal, in fact. The ultimate evidence of egalitarianism.

If we can proceed with an awareness that something is coming that will relieve every conceivable hurt, perhaps we can recast our view of life so as to see it as a privilege – the most interesting stint we know of in the universe. A fleeting one, to be sure, but a privilege, nonetheless.


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