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What is Death Positive? Reducing Anxiety During Uncertain Times


One of the main trends of the 2019 Global Wellness Summit was ‘dying well’. For many people, the phase may seem a bit contradictory. How does someone die well? In more extreme circles, dying is considered the ultimate end, and really, the ultimate failure of humanity. While that might be the rhetoric for some, many individuals are resisting against that mindset in favor of a death positive outlook.

‘Death’ this, ‘Death’ that

We’re all going to die. And the death positive movement wants us to say it. People who describe themselves as death positive aim to educate people about dying, breaking down the taboo surrounding death. One of the leading organizations surrounding death positivity is The Order of the Good Death, which describes themselves as a “group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.”

Death is a powerful motivator, and much of what we do (either consciously or subconsciously) revolves around it. There’s a term that describes this intense motivation: death anxiety. Death anxiety, or thanatophobia, is the intense fear of death. Originally developed in the early 1970s by cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, Terror Management Theory (TMT) suggests that much of our daily motivations are focused around death, particularly around how we balance the awareness of our own mortality with the drive to survive. This fear typically manifests in a number of ways, and it can manifest differently for each person. For some people, it can be an outstanding motivator, but for others it can be crushing, causing loss of perspective and other neurotic side-effects. 

The Reaction

Within Terror Management Theory, it’s assumed that all people have some level of death anxiety (although the level differs between individuals). Following that thread, how do we deal with the fear then?

For many people, death anxiety can have a positive effect. This is the motivation for many people trying to ‘live life to its fullest’. The goal of symbolic immortality describes what these people attempt to achieve, where they are motivated to make a mark in the world, leaving their family and friends, values, and art to outlive them. However for others, death anxiety could lead to erratic or cynical behavior, such as extreme vanity, controlling others, or denial. Some people even attribute wellness trends as a direct result of death anxiety, as a way of managing our fears surrounding death (and possibly in an attempt to cheat death itself?).

Proponents of the death positive movement argue there are healthier ways to discuss death and even propose methods of relieving death anxiety in the process. There are a growing number of death-centered media content and organizations promoting death positivity. Many of these resources are educational platforms seeking to create meaningful discussions surrounding the topic. Many of these groups are online, allowing a wide range of individuals to connect and engage with the content. Caitlin Doughty (“Ask a Mortician”, founder of The Order of Good Death) is one content creator with a passion to educate the world about death positivity, breaking down common death-related questions and topics in her books and videos. Offline, there are various organizations that involve itself with death positivity as well. Death Cafe is a non-profit that aims to bring together people interested in talking about death together for cakes and tea, while Coffin Club assembles elderly individuals within their community to discuss death and build their own coffins. 

Death positive thinking is a tricky concept to sell, but the movement has its followers, and the number is growing. It’s unsettling and uncomfortable to face one’s own mortality, but people are working to remove some of the taboo surrounding dying, with hopes that it will strengthen us as a society ─ less fearful and generally happier. At Tulip Cremation, we hope to support you as you better understand death and mortality. Available 24/7, contact our Family Care Team at (844) 942-4909, or arrange online today.


Image by Bilal EL-Daou from Pixabay