I recently ran across a reference to the internet site DeathClock.com.
I clicked over to it, and entered a few simple facts about myself—birthday, gender, temperament, BMI, smoker/non-smoker—and the site spat out a projected death date that was quite startling in its specificity: Saturday, February 25, 2045. (It also provided a countdown clock that showed the seconds of my life slipping away. Yipes.)
This was a bit horrifying, but also fascinating and useful, and served as a memento mori. A “memento mori” (Latin for “Remember that you must die”) is an artistic or symbolic reminder of death or mortality. For instance, paintings depict skulls, soap bubbles, hour glasses, burnt candles, rotting fruits and decaying flowers, or smoke, which illustrate the passage of time and its inevitable end.
The questions asked by the DeathClock are also a reminder that although we don’t have complete control over our lives, and we’ll all die (obviously), nevertheless, there are factors within our control that statistically affect the length of people’s lives. In the United States, for instance, poor diet, inactivity, smoking, and drinking are among the leading causes of death—and these are preventable behaviors.
The days are long, but the years are short. It’s useful to be reminded that actions have consequences, that what we do every day may influence our quality and length of life. Even if that reminder is a bit grim.
What do you think? Do you find such reminders upsetting, or helpful? Did you check your own date?
If you’d like to read more along these lines, check out Happier at Home, chapter eight.