Our Topic Today: Death Reflection

  • Focus in a specific and vivid way on your own death
  • Experience your potential near-death experience to make a transformational change in your life
  • Learn the psychology of death reflection


  • The topic of Death generates some degree of negative emotions in us
  • People tend to bounce back after coming back from death, traumatic life events and life-threatening situations
  • There is some sort of recovery mechanism follow big crisis in our lives, with one of them being Gratitude Developmental Mechanism

Death Reflection Exercise

  1. Require full attention
  2. Use your imagination and follow along the audio clip
  3. If you’re driving right now or doing anything else that needs your attention, leave it for later to gain the best effect of this exercise

 Ask yourself these questions.

  • Please describe in detail the thoughts and emotions you felt while imagining the scenario.
  • If you did experience this event, how do you think you would handle the final moments?
  • Again, imagining it did happen to you, describe the life you led up to that point, and
  • How do you feel your family would react if it did happen to you?


The Psychology of Death Reflection

  • focusing in a specific and vivid way on your own death
  • designed by Philip J. Cozzolino and his colleagues in their study Greed, Death, and Values: From Terror Management to Transcendence Management Theory (Click here to view the original study)
  • emulate near-death experiences
  • enhancing one’s recognition that life might “not be,” increases gratitude and appreciation for life

The Death & Gratitude Study

  • 117 participants
  1. Measure state gratitude and other positive emotional states of all participants
  2. Assign them randomly to one of three conditions

Condition 1: people were simply guided through thinking about the thoughts of the day. They are asked to imagine “another typical day.”

Condition 2: people wrote about their own death. And the specific instruction is ‘In as many words and in as much detail as possible, please describe the thoughts, feelings, and emotions you experience when thinking about your own death’.

Condition 3: In the death reflection condition, participants were guided through a vivid scenario imagining their own death in a house fire

  1. Participants were given 4 questions to reflect upon
  2. Their gratitude state and emotional states are being measured once again

Click here to see the original paper

So…what are the results?

  • Gratitude was significantly greater in both death salience conditions (when imagining their death either on an abstract or deep level) compared to controls (when they only imagine what they typical day will be like)
  • gratitude increased more when they are asked to imagine the death situation vividly in their heads than when they are asked to just reflect on their death.
  • while gratitude increased in the death reflection condition, positive affect actually went down.

What it really means:

  • when one is vividly and concretely confronted with the possibility of one’s own death, gratitude is enhanced.
  • Imagining our own death do elicit some bitter emotions, but our gratitude level actually increases, and that brings us benefits beyond mere positive emotions.
  • Death reflection has now been shown to increase intrinsic motivation and decrease greed.

How You Can Apply Death Reflection in Other Areas

  • focusing on the potential loss of anything might enhance one’s awareness that this thing ‘might not be’ makes you acknowledge and appreciate simple pleasures
  • think about the potential absence of a positive event from one’s past
  • reflecting on the death of a loved one
  • imagine how their relationship might never have come to be

[Listen to HMT 010: The Gratitude Practice Guide and do the Gratitude Relationship Practice here]

Words of Wisdom by Chesterton

Until we realize that things might not be, we cannot realize that things are. 

Take-away messages

  • Thinking about how life and things might not be could be more powerful than counting blessings alone
  • You may never know what it feels like in your final moments in life, but you can imagine that and use that experience to remind yourself of all the bliss happening in your life

Resources Mentioned

It’s A Wonderful Life – the famous Frank Capra film telling the story of a distraught George Bailey being shown what his town would have been like without him, with the inevitable result being that Bailey develops a deep appreciation for the town as it is. This is where the inspiration of the George Bailey Effect comes from!



Music Credit: Constancy Part 2 – The Descent [1:04] by Kevin MacLeod

Constancy Part 2 – The Descent by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100773

Artist: http://incompetech.com/

What are your thoughts that touch you deeply after doing the death reflection activity? Share it with me in the comments below!

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