A phrase I’ve heard quite a lot recently is living my best life. What does it actually mean though? On the surface, you could take it simply as you’re doing what makes you happy, pursuing your dreams, and making the most of each day. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. We should all aim to make the most of each day and pursue what fulfills us. But I was challenged by another view of this idea on living well.
Often times when we think of living our best lives it can be very self-centered. How can I make my life better? How can I seize this day for myself? What will improve my lot in life? And although it’s okay to think of ourselves, living well is about so much more than that. Living well is about not only recognising our limited time on earth and making the most of it. It’s about reconciliation, forgiveness, making time for what’s really important in life, and not just thinking about ourselves.
As I said above, I got thinking about living well in a different way recently. And in a most unexpected way. I was introduced to the idea of living funerals. The idea piqued my interest as a concept for investigation. Free funerals for the living is an idea conceptualized in South Korea, offered by Hyowon Healing Center. Since opening in 2012 they have served more than 25,000 people of all ages to participate in mass living funeral services. The purpose of which is to improve their lives by considering their deaths.
This may seem a little macabre, but when you think about why they are performing this service, it makes sense.
Funeral company Hyowon began offering the living funerals to help people appreciate their lives, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with family and friends, said Jeong Yong-mun, who heads the healing center.https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-livingfunerals-idUSKBN1XG038
In 2016, South Korea’s suicide rate was 20.2 per 100,000 residents. This is almost double the world average of 10.53, according to the World Health Organisation. South Korea’s service of living funerals has helped many of its people to evaluate their lives and focus on what is truly important.
The message of personal value resounded with Choi.
“I want to let people know that they matter, and that someone else would be so sad if they were gone,” he said, wiping away tears. “Happiness is in the present.”https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-livingfunerals-idUSKBN1XG038
Of the thousands who have taken part in the living funerals, wearing shrouds, taking funeral portraits, writing their last testaments, and lying in a closed coffin for 10-15 minutes, they have come away with something tangible. A sense of what is important in their lives. What they want to prioritise. How they want to live better.
No-one talks about death
Death makes people uncomfortable. No-one, or at least very few people, like to discuss death. In fact, many go out of their way to actively avoid not only talking about it but seek ways to stop it altogether. But it is unavoidable. We should therefore find ways to address it, come to terms with it and live well as a result.
The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes wrote this:
Death reminds us of the brevity of life. We only have a certain amount of time given to us to live and love well. It’s up to us to decide what to do with our time; who and what to invest it in and where to give our focus. Appreciating our lack of control over death should enable us to take control over our lives by making good choices and living well with those around us. It weakens our grip on material things that are temporary and frees us up to enjoy what we have in the here and now.
Realising that we have only a short time on this earth, we should perhaps be compelled not to postpone visits with parents, friends, or relatives. Maybe we shouldn’t compromise our valued time with our children for work. In living well we are aware of what is important: forgiveness, reconciliation, family, togetherness. In living well, we might not regret so much and our fear of death might just loosen its grip.
How to start living well
I think living well is about living on purpose. So much of life just passes us by without much conscious thought. We get caught up in our routines, in our hang-ups, by grudges or stubbornness, and forget that our lives are our choice. We decide what to hold onto and what to let go of. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find the head-space to come to these important realizations in life because we live at 100 miles per hour.
I’m not saying we need to have our own living funeral like our friends in South Korea, although why not. But we do need to take the deliberate decision to take stock, evaluate what is of importance to us and repair any damage that we may find. In doing so, living well will become ingrained in our daily lives. Living on purpose and with purpose will be our mantra, and our lives will be richer for it.