Death and Daily Behavior

Death and Daily Behavior
Photo by Faith Crabtree / Unsplash

I recently read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, a personal journal detailing his inner dialogue as the emperor of Rome.

One of his thoughts stuck with me: If death happens tomorrow or in many years, we should feel and act the same.

Is this even possible to live by?

If you knew you were going to die in three months, you’d be a different person. Maybe you would quit your job and travel the world, blowing all your savings in one final act.

There would be pressure to avoid wasting those three months. You'd be urged to cut out all the bullshit and live right now.

We don’t contemplate death.

In Bhutan, people are encouraged to think about death five times a day. Bhutanese people make death a part of their culture, and they're also some of the happiest people in the world [1].

It's safe to say Bhutan is an outlier.

For most of our healthy lives, death is distant. We carry on taking the next day for granted.

Believing our days are far from over, we are never obligated to live now.


Death is never further than a couple feet down the road. You could be hit by a bus tomorrow, diagnosed with cancer, or eaten by a shark.

Marcus believes the closeness of death shouldn’t impact how we act today. If we are living honestly, knowing we die in 90 days won't radically change our behavior.

But how do we make this practical?

It’s not feasible to live like every day is our last.

In society, we must tend to responsibilities that will take more than three months to finish (work, health, children).

We can still move closer to Marcus’s ideal.

By choosing to live presently in our free time, and do things that make us feel alive today.

Examples may include creative hobbies, nature walks, time with friends, and laughter.

As an exercise,

take a mental inventory of your average day.

If you were going to die soon, what would you still be doing?

Maximize these, add some more for good measure, and limit everything else.

Life happens now.

[1] Source