Would We Be Happier If We Knew the Date of Our Death?

Self-Portrait with Death as a Fiddler

If each of us knew the date of our death many years in advance, wouldn’t we live more effectively, stop wasting time on trifles, and pursue our dreams like greyhounds pursue game?

I think we would, which is why I’ve just written on a sticky note 19,710, the number of days I estimated to have left until my death. I have decided that 75 years is a reasonable age for me to die at, considering that I have always been in good health, I don’t smoke or drink, and life expectancy tends to increase as civilization advances.

My paternal grandmother was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. She never smoked. Her husband did, and his lungs are fine. She is 73, and has five years left at most. But considering her age, her other ailments and illnesses, and her decision to refuse chemotherapy, she has probably less than 12-18 months.

This got me thinking. All of us were diagnosed with death when we were born into this giddy world. Since we had enough sense to tie our own shoelaces we knew that we are going to die someday.

And yet we never seem bothered by that thought, and we often leave to tomorrow what we can do today, and postpone following our dreams, and sometimes waste years doing not much. I’m only 21, but I’ve certainly wasted a few years already.

I think the problem is that we don’t have a clear date, only a someday, which is so vague that we can relegate it to the attic of our memory and forget about it. Maybe in the future our birth certificates will have written on them, under the day of our birth, the estimated day of our death.

And maybe that date, rather than to unnerve us and take the unpredictability out of our lives, will make us more efficient and exact, and ultimately, happier.


Tomorrow I will throw to the trash the 19,710 sticky note, and write on a new one 19,709… Of course, mishaps may happen sooner, but I already feel I have a little control over my fate.

I will use the days left to me wisely. There is much that I would like to do. But first I will finish Oliver and Katherine, my first novel. I would like to read from it to my grandmother before she dies.

50 thoughts on “Would We Be Happier If We Knew the Date of Our Death?

  1. Hi, thanks for dropping by my blog. I really appreciate. This is a refreshing read. Funny, the Bible already says,in a prayer by one of the Psalmists- “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” This is what you done, it’s good to seize the time before it runs away.

    i loved 50 tales, and i already like the characters Oliver Colours and Katherine Frost. I cant wait to read your novel.

  2. That is such an interesting concept, as are all your writings…it gives us such valuable food for thought…as always, thank you for sharing it…I look forward to your posts..we all need to live, laugh and love as if it’s our last day on earth…after all, it could be…:-)

    1. Actually I don’t think that ‘live you life to the extreme every day’ is good. One needs moderation. And you have to remember that to be happy you have to be sad, because without sadness happiness would not exist, no? 🙂

  3. What a mature thinker you are for such a young age. And, everything you said is true. I’ve lived my life with those same thoughts in mind. So, tomorrow I’ll subtract a day from my ten thousand and one, and if for some reason I’m not blessed with that many more days, then I can still say “life was worth it all.”(One of my favorite quotation: “Live Life and Dream” ~MaryGilmartin2012)

  4. It is an interesting idea. My husband, who has brain cancer, has been told he has 3 years. Of course this is approximate and could be longer, or shorter. It has brought the question of how we spend the rest of his days into sharp focus. I think that, on balance, knowing this is preferable to him getting hit by a bus in 3 years time. Although there is the period of his decline to consider (which has not yet happened).

    I think that for myself, I’d rather not know. It woudl raise too many other questions to obsess about. To me, the manner and length of my decline and death is more important than the actual date.

  5. What you mean you never say and what you say..you never mean.then what you wrote was never written and what you thought was never in your mind..if you are here..but then you are not ..let us decide before we forget..dates to die or born to beget. if I am given a chance to say, let us not live to die again, not wait to cry. no rush is needed, death must come unheeded.. that’s the hope, for sorrows. if I am alive, see you tommorow

  6. I loved this turn of phrase: “All of us were diagnosed with death when we were born into this giddy world.”

    I’ve also always been partial to a line from “The Green Mile.” — “We all owe a death.”

    I think yours may be my new favorite, regarding this topic.

  7. I have a countdown on my computer desktop to my calculated death date. I did it as a sort of joke, but it occasionally does make you reflect on life. Apart from that, it doesn’t really affect me.

      1. I hope you’re right because my predicted date is the 21st April 2037, although I’ve heard that eccentrics can live very long lives. 🙂

  8. I feel conflicted. I think this is a good idea if it incentivises you to do now not delay till tomorrow. But I wonder if we might not hope to learn to live fully because this is joyful, rather than because we are soon to snuff it – a more positive mindset?
    Always enjoy your posts – they invite thought.

  9. “But always at my back I hear / Time’s winge’d charriot hurrying near…”-To Hos Coy Mistress, by Andrew Marvel. Good read. Most of the time the things that could be put off until tomorrow get in the way of things we should take the time to do that we have not thought of-time for ourselves, time for others. Counting days is like trying to count railroad ties from the window of the train. You are going way to fast and in the end you juyst have numbers to remember, and memory is tainted by the present–we don’t know the future exists until it happens-it may already have happened–you may already be there. Best, KB-read the poem.

  10. I think this kind of thinking is definitely useful, but only in small doses, to be honest. Personally, I find that it leads to a sort of blind panic that just spirals into inertia. When you worry too much about the importance of every moment of your life, the weight of your decisions and the guilt of having a lazy or unproductive day can be paralyzing. So a healthy balance is best, I think!

  11. I don’t know if I need that much information. But I like that you’ll finish your novel to read to your grandmother.

    And this certainly acts as novel fodder. Consider yourself thanked if a manuscript arises from this post!

  12. Wow! This is a good question. I think I would want to catch up on some visiting, without telling my friends about it until after all my visits were done. This would be so I could just live in the moment and be a blessing to them and leaves the tears for later.

    Blessings ~ Wendy

  13. Thought-provoking as usual. While deadlines help me get things done, I am good at avoiding my own deadlines, so I probably would feel guilty about squandering my life. Then again, it might push me to rethink the stand up comic I always wanted to be.

  14. Im certain she would love being read to from her favorite (its only possible that you’re her favorite) grandchild. Lovely sentiment =) And I think that while knowing when our death of death will arrive will spare us many silly decisions- it will also act as a shield. People will be so focused on being nice and holy that you’d never see them in the real (real, referring to the present, rather than likelihood to occur) light of existence.

  15. I find that as I get older, Death becomes more real. It was always an abstraction. But now I am going to be 65. My dad will be 90 in two weeks. He has survived cancer and still works part time so it’s conceivable that I may have 25 more years of life to live. But I still don’t want to know the exact date till it’s here. Maybe the night before Death can ring me up to let me know they’ll be by to collect me in the mornig.

  16. It always strikes me as funny when we talk about “forever” like it actually means something .. instead in the end we are all born to die and (depending on your beliefs) we all die to be born again.

  17. I guess it really depends on what kind of person you are. People like me, who eat yoghurt even after it has expired – according to the print on the cup – as long as it smells O.k., also wouldn’t take their own expiration date seriously

  18. Have you heard about the 16th century astrologer who, having predicted he would die on a certain day, and finding himself still alive, committed suicide to save face?
    You could have an interesting meditation on the fate/free will theme centred round that……

  19. Very interesting post.
    This is a topic I could write a book upon but I’d keep it short.

    The problem I see most people having is a wrong concept of death!

    What is death? How do you define it? Is it really something inevitable? You seem to be suggesting so, but is that really the case?

    We humans die and have been dying, so far as we know, since we came into being. We see around us things appearing and disappearing, like flowers, trees etc. We make tools and machines which usally have a clear beginning and a clear end. Everything we make, eventually breaks!

    This is however not the case with the human body! It is a remarkbale and unique type of a machine. It is built to “live” not to die! Because it is a type of machine that constantly regenerates the parts it is built of, the cells.

    In fact, I can tell you with complete certainity that today, not a single cell in your body is the same cell with which you were born. Cells die and get replaced by newly generated cells. (Are you the same person who was born 21 years ago?)

    So what is human death? It can be defined in many ways but the most scientifically correct and logical deffinition I have ever come across is this:

    Your death is the level of knowledge and the ability of people around you to help you! Period!

    Think about it.

    Just a 200 years ago the average life expectancy in the world was 30-40 years. Today, in most developed countries it is 70-80 years. In just about 200 years we have DOUBBLED our life-spans?

    So what happned to our pre-destined death? How come we are living past our “best before” date? What happened is this:

    200 years ago if a person fell in the sea and was dragged out and found not breathing, the “people around him” assumed him dead! “It was his time”.. they would say. Then they would dig a hole and bury him considering him “dead”.

    Today, when the same thing happens, we DON’T consider that person “dead”. We start employing CPR and in most cases the person lives on happily.

    What has changed?

    The “people around” the guy 200 years ago did not know CPR, and that was his death. Today we know CPR so today’s guy don’t yet have to die.

    So death, you see, is essentially “our ability to repair the damage to our body”. Also today our bodies often get damaged in ways we don’t yet know how to repair. That causes the death of a person.

    Death, is NOT something inevitable.
    The problem is with our level of knowledge and understanding, which is constantly improving, but I’m afraid not as well as it could have been.

    There are thousands of people “dying” every single day today, for reasons we could easily have prevented.

    But no, surely we can’t be blamed.

    Or… can we?

    p.s. If you manage to live beyond 2050 you’d most probably live to a heathly age of 120-150 and by that time, it is very likely the only causes of “death” left in the world would be accidents. So don’t despair.

    1. Science can prolong life, but we can’t change the fact: on the day we’re born, we begin our pathway toward death, as does everything in the known universe. Even if human life is prolonged until 150, the fact will stand that the absolute deterioration of the body can be demonstrated in a simple process of watching a 20-year old learn tennis alongside a 60-year-old.

      1. Carl, what you are calling “deterioration” is the “ageing process” !

        There has recently been a host of break-throughs that shed light on the process of ageing, its root causes and even possible remedies that could totally eliminate ageing..

        I don’t wish to hijack this blog and start writing too much here, but if you wish to learn more I would reccommend at least 2 of BBC Horizon’s documentaries as a start:

        1. How to Live To 101

        2. Human v2.0

  20. My proverbial hat is off to you for being motivated by deadlines. If I knew the date of my death I would spend all my time figuring out how to get out of it, or around it. For me it’s all best left vague until it’s absolutely unavoidable — that leaves more time to worry about living. And deadlines, and trying to get out of or around them.

  21. All I know about death I’ve learnt from the many animals that have shared my life. All of them became more conscious as a result of having lived even if this was only at the end of their lives. None of them wanted to let go of life even when sick or in pain. All of them were and are masters of acceptance and as a result are more present in their lives. Most of what I know about life I have learned from my animals and a few great friends and a large assortment of impressive strangers.

  22. I liked your perspectives and also the comments from others. T think life is wonderful because of that little hope to do something. If one knew the date to die, those with short life would be very unhappy.

  23. Reblogged this on hazelnutangelalaw and commented:
    Do you agree with this? Even though we might have an exact date to our deaths, we will start to fear that date. As humans, we try to have control over every situation, and no one wants to die. So what happens if everyone spends days, months, years, trying to stop that “doomsday” from happening?
    Just my Thoughts…

  24. Knowing our date of death may depress us if it is sooner than we expected.
    I can relate it to Gandhi’s famous quote: “Live life as if you were die tomorrow.Learn as if you were live forever.”
    Less we know the better

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