Monday, May 05, 2008

Positive Psychology and Death

Anyone who thinks that Positive Psychology is just about smiley faces and being over-optimistic, read no further, unless you want to be disillusioned.
If you really want to find out more about positive psychology, I recommend subscribing to the Friends of Positive Psychology listserver which you can do by e-mailing
One of the things that has suprised me most since joining this mailing list is the number of posts on the subject of death.
Number one post on death in the positive psychology world concerns the free on-line lectures given by dying and wise 47-year-old professor Randy Pausch, especially his "Last Lecture", which you can view in long or short versions. He's just published a book called The Last Lecture.

In another vein, the poem variously called "If I had my life over" and "I would pick my daisies" and attributed to either Nadine Stair, aged 85 or Erma Bombeck after she found out she had a fatal illness ,has also been cited as an inspiration to live more authentically.
One version of it goes like this.

I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.
I'd relax. I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.
I would take more trips.
I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.

I would perhaps have more actual troubles but I'd
have fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I'm one of those people who live sensibly
and sanely hour after hour, day after day.

Oh, I've had my moments and if I had it to do over
again, I'd have more of them. In fact,
I'd try to have nothing else. Just moments.

One after another, instead of living so many
years ahead of each day.

I've been one of those people who never go anywhere
without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat
and a parachute.

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot
earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall.

If I had it to do again, I would travel lighter next time.
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies.

In positive psychology jargon, thinking about death connects with "counting your blessings" as well as living more authentically. Eric Weiner in his Geography of Bliss also comments on stumbling on the importance of death in the search for happiness. I suspect that as positive psychology gets more and more mature, it will increasingly engage with death and its importance to life.

Labels: ,


At Monday, June 23, 2008 , Blogger Peter Jackson said...

Dear Tim,

this reminds me very much of Irvin Yalom's humanity in dealing with people's attitudes to death (see Love's Executioner).

I had not linked existential therapy and positive psychology, at least not explicitly, but they surely connect.

At Monday, June 23, 2008 , Blogger Peter Jackson said...

Oops - of course - there's the link in the very next (err ... previous) posting. Sorry - first visit to your Blog.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home