We may not know that the capital of Bhutan the small Himalayan country is Thimphu but we more than likely know that it values and prizes happiness. Strange as it may be to our Western values, their secret, or at least part of it, is thinking about death. Most Bhutanese think about it 5 times a day. A while back I ran across an article by a travel writer for the BBC, Eric Weiner writing about all this. I somehow put it aside and only re discovered it a bit ago. The message is still fresh and certainly necessary so I am sharing it now. Weiner went to talk to a sage while visiting Bhutan. Uncharacteristically for him he writes, he confided his problems to him. The sage told him to think about death once a day. He did, and the advice worked. In his piece for the BBC Weiner cites recent studies in the US, one from the journal Psychological Science, which reports on the positive effects of taking the advice of thinking about death.
Western society and the American culture in particular, shun notions of death. And what is important about this study and about the case of Bhutan is that we do so at our own loss. Despite a predominantly Christian culture, a culture that stands for its message of life eternal, we think of death as an end rather than a step, a bridge, a chapter. It’s not that we are focused on living, it’s the way we prioritize our efforts to live, the way we ignore death, see our life in the world as an end in itself rather than part of something larger. Several years ago I was at a dinner party and the discussion turned to what would we do if we had a year to live. Somehow ever since, I’ve incorporated the idea of dying into much of my thinking, perhaps not daily, but often enough and I’ve discovered that it guides my actions in rewarding and unexpected ways. I wish you the same.