To achieve better happiness, start thinking about your own death

Talk about the ultimate premortem, I found this article by one of my favorite authors, columnists, and bloggers, Arthur C. Brooks an insightful thought experiment in imagining life as if it is almost over for you. The crux of the article and mental exercise is that there is a great amount of dissonance between the actions that what we as individuals know makes us highly satisfied and the decisions we actually make as it relates to what we spend our time doing. Brooks states:

In fact, most people suffer grave misalignment. In a 2004 article in the journal Science, a team of scholars, including the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, surveyed a group of women to compare how much satisfaction they derived from their daily activities. Among voluntary activities, we might expect that choices would roughly align with satisfaction. Not so. The women reported deriving more satisfaction from prayer, worship and meditation than from watching television. Yet the average respondent spent more than five times as long watching TV as engaging in spiritual activities.

If anything, this study understates the misalignment problem. The American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, in 2014, the average American adult spent four times longer watching television than “socializing and communicating,” and 20 times longer on TV than on “religious and spiritual activities.” The survey did not ask about hours surfing the web, but we can imagine a similar disparity.

Thus, the imperative is for us to stop wasting time and make better decisions with our present moments. Perhaps regular exercises in thinking earnestly about the dreadful prospect of only having a year left to live will provide an aid in helping us make better choices and paradoxically make us happier.


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