Most symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, addictions, fear) are related to death anxiety and/or meaninglessness. As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross noted: “For those who seek to understand it, death is a highly creative force. The highest spiritual values of life can originate from the thought and study of death.”
One way you can approach death is by focssing on the concrete aspects of preparing for death (e.g., wills, living wills, medical advance care plans), burial/cremation pre-arrangements and other death rituals). Here we ask: “How do I want to die?”
You can also focus on any unfinished business with colleagues, friends, family, and with groups/organizations. The key idea here is, “What do I value?” and “What can I let go of?”
On a deeper level, one can reflect about the meaning of life and death. Here you address the question, “How can my death be meaningful for me and others?” Having a solid religious and/or spiritual foundation helps with this concept.
As one focuses on death, it forces one to look at life, including what matters most, our values and worldview, as well as how one needs to change in order to make our remaining time more meaningful. Psychologically, this is where the work is done. What trait, role, belief or thought pattern needs to be consciously let go?
As Jung’s stated:
we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning;
for what was great in the morning will be little at evening,
and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.
Similar to Jung’s concept of individuation (especially as we hit the autumn of our life), Viktor Frankl’s (Man’s Search for Meaning) idea of free will suggests that life constantly challenges us with these inevitable choices:
• To stay the same or to change for the better.
• To float aimlessly downstream or to strive upstream for a goal.
• To conform to group pressure or to remain true to oneself.
• To do what is expedient or to do what is right and responsible.
• To get as much as one can or to give as much as one can to the world.
Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, encouraged people to look at living a meaningful and engaged life that does not always feel good in the short term, yet yields lasting satisfaction. It’s not about the ‘fun’, rather; it’s about acting from our personal values and goals that deepens our life.
Frankl’s theory of logotherapy (logos – Greek for ‘meaning’) suggests these elements of well-being that one can incorporate into daily life:
• Exercising autonomy.
• Exercising responsibility.
• Having a purpose or life goal.
• Serving others or a higher purpose.
• Relating well to others in an ethical way.
• Discovering & experiencing meaning in life.
• Appreciating the here & now.
• Engaging in what matters.
Where and how will you begin to deepen into life?