Why You Shouldn't Be Afraid of Dying or Getting Old
"It matters not how long we live but how." - Philip James Bailey
There was a question asked over at Reddit that caught my interest because it touched on something I'd been thinking about lately. Getting older and dying. Here's the post.
Throwaway account. Early 20s.
I am scared, really really scared of growing old. It’s not the dying aspect (I actually don’t care if the next plane I’m riding crashes, in the sense that it is what it is). However, I am unable to apply the principle to aging.
It’s growing old, weak, tired… just seeing myself in a worsening condition every time. Although it’s not the actual being weak that worries me (like it’s 30% of my worry), it’s the reminder that my life is passing.
I am terrified of being 40, 50, 60… where did I go? Where did my young self go? I literally dread right now, as I’m writing this, thinking about my future self, let’s say 50 years old, REMEMBERING me writing this. And thinking “how did it go by so quickly?”. It’s been getting more and more worrying throughout the last months and I feel completely lost. Specially what I just mentioned: imagining myself in the future, ACTUALLY REMEMBERING myself from the present imagining that future (which would be my present time when it comes).
I’d like so advice on how to cope with this. It seems an old complaint, but it’s just that all the common answers don’t ease my mind. So even though I thoroughly appreciate anyone taking the time to answer, could anyone please give me either new arguments or new perspectives on the following arguments?
Best years are to come: I don’t think so, and I don’t really care. I want more time, not being in the best time. I prefer thinking that 40s are to come, rather than being in my 40s.
You are still young: it’s not that that worries me (and young is subjective unless you’re five), it’s the passing time. This argument doesn’t ease my mind at all.
You don’t have to be “old, weak, tired…”: no, of course I don’t, but I will be weaker and more tired than my younger self.
Just appreciate the present moment: if it were as easy as just pushing a mental button that helped me do that, I would have done it long ago.
You can’t do anything to avoid it: that only makes me more anxious.
It’s better than the alternative: this again, doesn’t really do anything. And even then, I’d probably rather die of an accident now (yes, really) than age and see the time pass.
I think it all comes from me being scared of regretting “not having done more” in the past. However, I’m a stellar student, loads of “with honors”, and I’m physically healthy, as well as being a black belt in martial arts. Just saying this to clarify I am actually trying to be the best version of myself, but I still somehow fear regretting not having done more. I am also scared that, having covered all the previous arguments, someone says “there’s no more reasonings”, which would mean that everything is lost pretty much, since there will be no way of being at ease of mind.
Thanks in advance.
I really haven’t talked about this a lot publicly, but I’ve had a couple of what seem to be COVID-related issues and both were potentially fatal. I say “seem to be” because I think I’ve had COVID three times, but I’ve never tested positive for COVID. Personally, I am extremely dubious of the accuracy of the tests. For example, the second time I got it, I had spent an hour hitting pads with a martial arts teacher and he got sick later that night. The day after, he called to tell me he was being tested for COVID. A couple of days later, he called to tell me he had come up positive and obviously, I’d been heavily exposed. A little less than a week after the session, I came down with something very COVID-like but tested negative. Soon after I got over it, I had a potentially fatal episode of deep vein thrombosis — and it’s well known that COVID is tied to problems with blood clots. More than a year later, again, I had something very much like COVID. I didn’t even bother to get tested because ultimately, I figured what difference does it make? Whether it’s the flu or COVID, the doctors are just going to treat the symptoms. Eight days after I first got sick, my heart went into atrial fibrillation and for much of the next three weeks, my heart was running in the 130-140 range. There were days I put in 16,000 steps with my heart trip hammering like that. I delayed getting treatment in large part because I errantly believed my Fitbit was broken. Could that have caused a heart attack or a stroke? Absolutely. Thank goodness I do so much cardio because my heart just took it and kept firing. Happily, after going through thousands of dollars worth of tests and treatments (Oh, the bills), my heart popped back into rhythm on the 4th of August and has stayed there since. My heart test results are now stellar and in my doctor’s words, everything looks “perfect.” HOPEFULLY, the inflammation from the COVID just faded away and now, I just need to keep working to make things even better to make sure this doesn’t happen again….but, who knows? I could write another 2,000 words on this whole subject, but ultimately, that’s not what this is about. I just wanted to explain to you why I have been thinking a little more about old age and mortality these days.
That being said, like most people I’m a little afraid of old age and death. The scariest thing to me isn’t dying per se, it’s dying when I still have so much left to accomplish or worse yet, having a long, slow decline. Death itself isn’t very scary, but dying with so much left to do or spending years suffering before dying in an unpitied struggle with a failing body? That’s scarier.
Still, there are some things that come to mind when I think about getting older and dying.
1) Everyone is going to get old. Everyone is going to die. Everything and everyone you love is going to eventually go away. That's just the nature of things. It happens to everyone and there's nothing you can do to change it. Buddhist monks actually meditate about their death to prepare themselves for it. This is in part because worrying about things you can't change is pointless and makes you miserable with no upside. Instead of needlessly worrying about the future, you should hope for the best, prepare for the worst, keep your chin up and face it as it comes. In the interim, be grateful for what you have while you have it, not upset over what you've lost or upset over what may come. It's just a better, healthier, happier way to look at the world.
2) You really don't know how you're going to feel when you get older. You may think you do, but situations change, people change and the world changes. In a sense, it's like finding a mountain and deciding to climb. Some things you're just not going to see or realize until you get higher and have a better view. In this case, believe it or not, the happiest people overall in American society are the oldest people,
The consulting firm Gallup, which periodically surveys millions of Americans on life satisfaction, asks detailed questions on five different aspects of well-being: health, community, social interaction, finances, and career. People are also asked specific questions like “Did you experience a lot of happiness yesterday?” rather than just generic questions like “Are you happy?”
Gallup’s data sketches out a more squiggly curve, with happiness rising for people ages 30 to 44 compared to the 18–29 set, then falling to the lowest levels for those 45 to 64, then rising to the highest levels thereafter, explains Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index.
The world is full of happy, old people. Maybe you’ll be one of them. That’s a good reason to take some basic steps like building up a nest egg and guarding your health to increase your chances. If you are going to be one of them, how much sense does it make to spend your time worrying? If it turns out you’re not one of them, how much sense does it make to spend the happiest time of your life worrying about being unhappy later? Do your thing. Live your life and do take some consolation in the idea that you may very well be happier than you expect when you’re older.
3) I am a big believer in this quote,
I don't know what your goals, dreams, and purpose may be, but immerse yourself in it. Live in a way you're proud of and whether you die young or old, it will be a life lived that you can feel good about. For the most part, when I hear about some person who passes in his eighties or nineties with some accomplishments to his credit and children, unless he is someone I’m close to that I will personally miss, I’m usually thinking, “Wow, he lived a good life. That’s something he can be proud of.” At the end of the day, that’s all you can really ask at the end of your life. Did you do a lot with what you were given? If the answer is “yes,” you did what you could to make the world a better place. That’s something that should make you proud.