Death in the perspective of positive psychology

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Death is considered a universal phenomenon - everyone dies. Unlike other species, humans are aware of their mortality, that the life can end at any time, sometimes for reasons that cannot be predicted or controlled. The fact that people have the capacity for self-reflection has both advantages and disadvantages. Self-reflection allows people to analyze the past, present and future, which facilitates survival; on the other hand, self-reflection also allows a juxtaposition between the desire to live and the awareness of death, and this juxtaposition can produce anxiety. The fact that people are prone to self-preservation when they are aware of their mortality favors the fear of death.
Thoughts associated with death are associated with increased efforts to avoid it. Also, the thoughts related to death, lead to the identification of the individual to the socio-cultural group of which he is part and the strong adherence to the values of the group. In other words, consciously or unconsciously, when confronted with thoughts about their own death, people tend to suppress those thoughts, reduce anxiety, and restore the life's order and meaning.
Socio-cultural models protect us from the fear of death by allowing us to see ourselves as having valuable contributions to the reality in which we live and we are part of an immortal collective entity. The beliefs that people develop about the world and themselves, through social and cultural mechanisms, transcend the biological limitations of each of us.
Numerous studies have shown that thoughts about death do not produce dysfunctional negative emotions among people with intrinsic religiosity. Moreover, these studies show that people tend to declare themselves more religious after being confronted, in one way or another, with the idea of death. These data claim that believers (Christians, Muslims, etc.) are more protected from anxiety than death.

The desire to live

The desire to live refers to the commitment that someone has to life, on a conscious and instinctive level:
- the meaning that life has for him as individual
- the motivation he feels subjectively and so on.
The desire to live it expresses through the reactions it has to threats in order to restore the balance that has been affected (at the biological, emotional, cognitive level).
The loss of the desire to live is NOT the desire to die and differs from depression or mourning.
When faced with severe or terminal conditions, people with a strong desire to live have a favorable response to treatments that would keep them alive compared to people with a low desire to live.
The desire to live refers not only to one's amplitude towards the present life, but also to the motivation to face the negative situations in the future. The desire to live is maintained until the end of life, even in seriously ill people. The desire to live is positively associated with the mental state and negatively with somatic diseases, in both: the general population and the clinical population. The desire to live is positively associated with a longer life span. In other words, the longer one wants to live, the longer that one will live, regardless of gender, age, education and co-morbid conditions.

The desire to die

10-20% of the elderly in Europe want or have wanted to die at some point.
People who want to die often have depressive symptoms. Factors associated with the desire to die, regardless of depressive symptoms are: various disabilities or difficulties in caring for oneself, single people (following divorce or death of the life partner), financial problems and low social support.
The desire to die can predict mortality among the elderly. When associated with depressive symptoms, the desire to die can be treated.

The anxiety about death

The anxiety about death occurs as a result of one's thoughts about own death or the death of others. Most people live to some extent with anxiety in regards to death. This anxiety about death is the conservation instinct: people who fear death will avoid situations that can lead to injury or death. But anxiety about death can be dysfunctional, interfering significantly with daily life.
The main fears of adults related to death are the likelihood of going through a long, painful process or being abandoned at the time of their death. Because thoughts about death are frightening, many people avoid thinking about death. Self-regulation refers to one's ability to control one's own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Self-regulation is an extremely useful skill when we have to deal with unpleasant or stressful situations. The most commonly used strategy of self-regulation is to suppress or redirect thoughts about death. Measurements of anxiety about death show that people are aware of death by default, but these thoughts are suppressed by explicit awareness. Self-regulation is limited and the capacity for self-regulation differs from person to person.

The mourning and the post-traumatic development

The mourning is a complex phenomenon that is expressed in a number factors such as: individual, family, religious and socio-cultural.
Classic models of mourning
1. The mourning is limited in time: individuals go through a period of intense shock and mourning for approx. 2 weeks, followed by a period of 2 months of deep mourning, and then 2 years in which the state of normal functioning is gradually restored.
2. Mourning involves several distinct stages that people go through when faced with the death of a loved one: denial, anger, negotiation, depression and acceptance. This pattern is typical for situations that lead to major life changes.
People do not go through these stages in a predictable manner. Mourning depends on a number of personal (eg. death meaning), family (eg. social support) and cultural factors. Those who benefit from protective factors are more resilient when they lose someone close.
Most people tend to be resilient when facing grief and return to the level of functioning they had before the loss. Although there are negative effects that mourning can have on physical and mental health, it can be a catalyst for post-traumatic development.
The personal development occurs as a result of mourning, especially if the death of a close person leads to questioning the life philosophy of those who remain. It is the result of attempts to reorganize one's own beliefs about oneself, others or life, respectively the attempts to understand the meaning of death. Post-traumatic development after mourning is facilitated by the spiritual coping mechanisms. Coping, religious practices, and participation in religious activities have been identified as having an important role in post-traumatic development. One of the basic principles in many philosophical and religious traditions is that, although mourning is associated with psychological imbalance and emotional distress, it can also provide the context for positive change. Studies show that the death of a loved one can lead to major changes in the lives of those grieving.


The years that someone has to live are a more important predictor of functioning than the years of birth. The idea that well-being and satisfaction with life are relatively stable throughout adulthood is based on empirical studies. Well-being remains relatively stable even in old age, despite inherent health problems.
Studies with a different perspective show a significant decline in well-being in old age, as one approach death. It seems that the changes that occur in the elderly are influenced not only by age, but also by the imminence of death. So, well-being and positive emotions decline significantly in the period before death, regardless of age. In other words, compared to chronological age, the life satisfaction and general well-being is a better predictor of distance from death.
Life satisfaction and general well-being are not explained by chronological age, health status and other demographic factors. Well-being could be related to proximity to death through other mechanisms such as the desire to live. Life satisfaction and general well-being are important components of beautiful aging.

Regrets before death:

Knowing what most people regret in the face of death, we can live in such a way that we have no regrets:
1. Regret of unfulfilled dreams
2. Regret to spend too much time working and too little time with family (mainly men).
3. Regret for not expressing your opinions or emotions so as not to upset others.
4. Regret for neglecting friends
5. The regret of having resigned and not daring, the fear of change


The focus on death is not only associated with negative feelings, but positive too: how to avoid death and seeking immortality and conscious contemplation of the present.
Religion and spirituality are important to people. Religion and spirituality help to cope with anxiety related to death, mourning or help to develop post traumatic after a negative event. Religious people have a greater desire to live, including in conditions of terminal illness, desire that is associated with a longer life span.
The desire to live longer is good. Just as the desire to die predicts mortality, the desire to live can predict life expectancy. Regardless of gender, age, education, beyond somatic or psychological disorders, the longer we want to live, the longer we will live.

Tratat de pshihologie pozitiva, by Aurora Szentagotai-Tatar & Daniel David