Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Mindfulness

10 Profound Benefits of Embracing Your Mortality

How "memento mori" can wake you up to life.

Key points

  • Memento mori means "remember you must die" in Latin.
  • Contemplating death and its impermanence can have profound benefits in living our best lives.
  • Through memento mori, we gain a deeper understanding of the significance of the time we have.

The Latin phrase "memento mori" serves as a reminder of the inevitability of death. While it may seem counterintuitive, contemplating our mortality can provide valuable insights and benefits for how we live our lives. This article explores ten profound benefits of memento mori—emphasizing its role in cultivating gratitude, setting meaningful priorities, enhancing mindfulness, and ultimately guiding us to lead more fulfilling and authentic lives while we're fortunate to be above ground.

Source: Eyasu Etsub / Unsplash
Source: Eyasu Etsub / Unsplash

1. Gratitude and Appreciation

One of the central benefits of embracing the philosophy of memento mori is its ability to instill a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for life. In our fast-paced, often stressful world, it's easy to take the beauty and wonder of life for granted. Contemplating our mortality reminds us that our time on this planet is limited (to roughly 4,000 weeks if you’d like to get specific). It encourages us to savor our moments and appreciate even the simplest pleasures. This heightened appreciation can lead to a happier and more content existence (Frail, Watkins, & Weber, 2011).

2. Setting Meaningful Priorities

Memento mori prompts us to reflect on our priorities and values. When confronted with the idea of death, many of our trivial concerns and pursuits suddenly lose their significance. We are compelled to ask ourselves profound questions like, “What truly matters in my life?” and, “What do I want to accomplish before my time runs out?” This contemplation can lead to a realignment of our goals and values, guiding us to focus on what brings us the most joy, fulfillment, and purpose (Smith, 2019).

3. Mindfulness and Presence

Memento mori emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment. We often find ourselves preoccupied with thoughts of the past or future, missing out on the richness of the here and now. Embracing our mortality encourages us to fully engage in the present as we recognize that our time is finite. This practice of mindfulness can help us experience life more deeply and authentically (McWilliams, 2014).

4. Overcoming Fear and Anxiety

Many of us harbor a fear of death, which can lead to unnecessary anxiety and stress. Memento mori can help individuals confront this fear by transforming their perspective. Instead of fearing death, we can learn to accept it as a natural part of life. This acceptance not only reduces anxiety but also empowers us to make the most of the time we have (Niemiec et al, 2010).

5. Living with Intention

Embracing the concept of memento mori encourages individuals to live with intention. It compels us to set clear goals, take risks, and pursue our passions. When we realize that our time is limited, we are less likely to postpone our dreams and desires. This sense of urgency can be a powerful motivator, propelling us toward our aspirations (Kagan, 2012).

6. Strengthening Relationships

Memento mori reminds us of the impermanence of all things, including the people we hold dear. This realization can lead to more meaningful and authentic connections with others. It encourages us to cherish our relationships, forgive grievances, and express love and appreciation more freely. By recognizing the transitory nature of life, we become better at nurturing our connections with others (Kosloff & Greenberg, 2009).

7. Reducing Materialism

The pursuit of material possessions often distracts us from what truly matters in life. Memento mori challenges our consumer-driven culture by highlighting the insignificance of material wealth in the face of mortality. This philosophy helps us shift our focus from the accumulation of possessions to the accumulation of meaningful experiences, relationships, and personal growth (Johnson & Peterson, 2020).

8. Embracing Failure and Learning

Memento mori encourages us to confront our fear of failure. When we remember that our time is limited, we realize that failure is an inevitable part of the human experience. This acceptance of failure as a natural aspect of life fosters resilience and a willingness to learn from our mistakes and care less about external judgment. It allows us to take risks, push boundaries, and grow as individuals (Yalom, 1980).

9. Finding Purpose and Fulfillment

One of the most significant benefits of memento mori is its capacity to help us find purpose and fulfillment in life. By contemplating our mortality, we become more attuned to our deepest desires and passions. This clarity of purpose guides our decisions and actions, leading us toward a life that is more meaningful and authentic (Proulx & Heine, 2006).

Source: Laura Fuhrman / Unsplash
Source: Laura Fuhrman / Unsplash

10. Leaving a Legacy

The idea of memento mori extends beyond our own lives. It encourages us to consider the legacy we might leave behind. What impact will we have on the world, and how will we be remembered? By reflecting on our mortality, we are motivated to make a positive mark on the world, whether through our contributions to society, our relationships, or the values we pass on to future generations (Hunter, 2008).

The practice of remembering you must die...

Embracing the philosophy of memento mori can have profound and transformative effects on our lives. By acknowledging the impermanence of our existence, we are inspired to live more authentically, gratefully, and purposefully. This practice encourages us to confront our fears, pursue our passions, and strengthen our relationships. Through memento mori, we gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and the significance of the time we have. In this philosophy, we find the wisdom to live our best lives, fully embracing the gift of existence in all its fleeting glory.

References

Frias, A., Watkins, P. C., Webber, A. C., & Froh, J. J. (2011). Death and gratitude: Death reflection enhances gratitude. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(2), 154-162.

Hunter, E. G. (2008). Beyond death: Inheriting the past and giving to the future, transmitting the legacy of one's self. OMEGA-Journal of Death and Dying, 56(4), 313-329.

Johnson, R., & Peterson, S. (2020). The impact of mortality salience on value priorities and life satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15(2), 167-177. doi:10.1080/17439760.2019.1652419

Kagan, Shelly. (2012). Death. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Kosloff, S., Greenberg, J. (2009). Pearls in the desert: Death reminders provoke immediate derogation of extrinsic goals, but delayed inflation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 197-203.

McWilliams, S. A. (2014). Foundations of mindfulness and contemplation: Traditional and contemporary perspectives. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 116-128.

Niemiec, C. P., Brown, K. W., Kashdan, T. B., Cozzolino, P. J., Breen, W. E., Levesque-Bristol, C., & Ryan, R. M. (2010). Being present in the face of existential threat: The role of trait mindfulness in reducing defensive responses to mortality salience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(2), 344.

Proulx, T., & Heine, S. (2006). Death and black diamonds: Meaning, mortality, and the meaning maintenance model. Psychological Inquiry, 17(4), 309–318.

Smith, J. (2019). The existential quest: Death as a catalyst for meaning. Journal of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy, 42(2), 237-249.

Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential Psychotherapy. Basic Books.

advertisement
More from Jodi Wellman MAPP
More from Psychology Today