Measuring Our Mortality: Why Everyone Should Have a Death Clock
Spoiler alert: you’re going to die.
For those of you who this came as a shock to, I’m sorry. Please feel free to click away from the article and sit with your newfound mortality.
Still here? Then I guess you’re not all that surprised. If you’re anything like me, you’re intellectually aware of your own mortality, but don’t pay it too much mind.
“Mortality is something that only old people should think about.”
-My cocky 20-something ego
Whether we like to admit it or not, death can come knocking for us at any time. From a stray bus, an overly feisty cat, or terminal disease. Death is the one constant that all humans have. Until we figure out a way to best our biological clocks, death is the only certainty about life, you know, aside from taxes.
Why We Fear Mortality
If I don’t acknowledge the bear in front of me, maybe it won’t eat me.
I certainly treat the mortality of myself and my close friends and family this way. Death is painful to think about. If you’re considering the mortality of your friends and family you realize their absence would (hopefully) be a profound loss in your life.
Even scarier is when we turn the thought of mortality inwards. Most people have dreams they want to pursue, goals they want to reach, and people they want to spend another day with.
The grim reaper is so scary because he embodies the last sleep. We think of all the things we plan or hope to do and realize they can be taken from us in an instant. This realization is crushing.
I think this is perfectly logical. I’m scared shitless of dying young.
Although at the current moment I don’t think I’m a valuable member to society, I would like to be. I realize becoming valuable will take a lot of time. I’m scared I’ll pass before I can make my dream a reality. I’m also scared I won’t get to see all I want to see and do what I want to do.
The Northern Lights, Machu Pichu, my best friend’s wedding, and so many more things. All these possibilities taunt me and call out to me. In a moment, they could be irrevocably taken from me.
When I think of how much I have left to see, learn, and do I’m overwhelmed. The specter of death always lingers a half-step behind. His shadow constantly haunts me. I fear Grim claiming me before my time. My fear also serves as good motivation.
I want to beat the reaper. Grim probably beats me in the long-run, but I want to give him a damn good fight. I’ll consider the fight a draw if I accomplish my goals and dreams before he calls.
Why We Should Measure Our Mortality
“We don’t beat the grim reaper by living longer. We beat the grim reaper by living fully and living well”
It’s often said that what’s measured gets managed. Our time is finite and the most valuable asset we have. Isn’t it worth managing our time to the best of our abilities? Measuring our remaining days would make the abstract concept of death a concrete reality.
We make decisions emotionally. Measuring our expected days would force us to process our mortality on an emotional level. If we want to live fully, we have to leverage our most powerful decision-making apparatus.
How to Measure Our Mortality
Measuring death may sound all well and good to you, but you’re probably left with a simple question. “How do I know when I’m going to die?”
Obviously, most of us can’t know when we’re going to die. A majority of us mere mortals simply can’t predict the future. Although, if you’re a psychic and want to prove it, I’d happily take the next set of winning Powerball numbers.
Thankfully, there is an entire industry dedicated to death, insurance. Over time, they have developed a measure which gives you a pretty good idea how long you can be expected to live based on your demographic data. It’s called an actuarial table.
Based on this table, you can find the average life expectancy for a person that is generally like you (in terms of age, gender, etc.) Although the average is less reliable than modified calculations that account for your lifestyle, it’s easy enough to use and is a good enough approximation.
After you know this number, you can now create a “death clock.” The idea is simple. You take your estimated age of death in days, subtract your current age in days, and use the remaining number as your countdown.
I must admit, the creation of a death clock isn’t my own idea. Kevin Kelly described this idea on an episode of Impact Theory. He measures his mortality through a web app on his desktop. I want to adopt a similar idea.
I’ve always wanted to get better at building with electronics. I’ve also been wanting to make my own alarm clock and internet radio for a long time. So, why not use mortality motivation to build an alarm/death clock?
Of course, your solution doesn’t have nearly as “techie” or “geeky.” You could create a physical countdown calendar. In fact, I think this could make a neat gift for the stoics in your life.
Another low-tech option is to use a sticky note. As long as you update the sticky note each day, it still serves the purpose. In some ways, constantly reducing the number would be a better reinforcement since you actively have to reduce your own “life expectancy.”
Death is scary.
I don’t think most people want to die and I know I certainly don’t. While ignoring poor Grim may make us feel better, it isn’t the best choice. Unless we’re lucky to see technological advances which result in biological immortality, we will die.
One of the scariest parts of death is what we feel it would rob us of. Humans are naturally loss-averse, so this feeling of being robbed is painful; but, if we allow ourselves to sit in this pain, we realize the danger of “I’ll do this tomorrow.”
We’re not guaranteed tomorrow, nor will we see as many as we believe.
Developing an emotional awareness of our likely demise benefits us in two ways. First, we become more intentional with our time. We realize that none of us escape life alive and start to act in harmony with our values, goals, and dreams.
Secondly, we slowly leverage death. If we use our mortality as motivation, we can remove the negative power death has over our emotion. Instead, Grim, the enemy, becomes an ally who helps us live our best life.