Death’s Sweet Embrace

Think of your demise—often—as the ultimate immersive experience

Michael Easter

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Photo by Chris Arthur-Collins on Unsplash

HBO’s The White Lotus wrapped up last Sunday. It’s a great show I recommend. Think: Succession but at a luxury Hawaiian vacation resort.

In the final episode Jennifer Coolidge’s character (who is perfect in the role) says something that got me thinking about my own work. Coolidge’s character is a rich and broken, the type who uses far-out spa services and offbeat treatments to try to feel normal.

In the final episode she describes death as the “ultimate immersive experience,” like it’s perhaps the perfect spa treatment.

In my new book, The Comfort Crisis, I investigate the connection between modern comforts and conveniences and some of our most pressing problems, like heart disease, diabetes, depression, and a sense of purposelessness. Turns out, engaging with a handful of evolutionary discomforts can dramatically improve our mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. One of those fruitful discomforts? Thinking about dying. Taking into our mind and being with that “ultimate immersive experience,” as Coolidge puts it.

Death has always been the most uncomfortable fact of life. And as modern medicine, comforts, and conveniences have given us more years, we’ve seemingly become less and less comfortable with life’s only guarantee. Roughly seven out of ten Westerners say they feel uncomfortable with death. Only half of people over 65 have considered how they want to die.

After someone dies we’re encouraged to stay busy to take our mind off it. A dead person’s body is immediately covered and sent to a mortician where it is prepared to look as youthful and alive as possible before one final, hour-long viewing, after which it is dropped into the ground of a perfectly manicured cemetery.

But new research is showing that death awareness is good for us. For example, scientists at the University of Kentucky had one group of people think about a painful visit to the dentist and the other contemplate their death. The death thinkers afterward said they were more happy and fulfilled in life. The scientists concluded, “death is a psychologically threatening fact, but when people contemplate it, apparently the automatic system begins to search for…

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Michael Easter

Author of The Comfort Crisis // Professor // Writing about physical + mental health, psychology, and living better 1x week // eastermichael.com