Finally! A scientific research study I can relate to. This month’s issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Review has an article titled “When Death is Good for Life: Considering the Positive Trajectories of Terror Management.” The abstract states:
The awareness of mortality can motivate people to enhance their physical health and prioritize growth-oriented goals; live up to positive standards and beliefs; build supportive relationships and encourage the development of peaceful, charitable communities; and foster open-minded and growth-oriented behaviors. The article also tentatively explores the potential enriching impact of direct encounters with death. Overall, the present analysis suggests that although death awareness can, at times, generate negative outcomes, it can also function to move people along more positive trajectories and contribute to the good life.
Or in simple English – if you’re sad and think life sucks, take a walk in a cemetery. When you’re done, you’ll be filled with joy! You will kiss your neighbours and do favors for strangers. Amazing.
The researchers observed people who were either passing through a cemetery or were one block away, out of sight of the cemetery.
Actors at each location talked near the participants about either the value of helping others or a control topic, and then some moments later, another actor dropped her notebook.
The researchers then tested in each condition how many people helped the stranger.
“When the value of helping was made salient, the number of participants who helped the second confederate with her notebook was 40% greater at the cemetery than a block away from the cemetery,” Vail says.
“Other field experiments and tightly controlled laboratory experiments have replicated these and similar findings, showing that the awareness of death can motivate increased expressions of tolerance, egalitarianism, compassion, empathy, and pacifism.”
Well. I can’t say that as a gravetender my cemetery visits always motivate me in the ways mentioned above but I do feel a sense of peace when I’m in a cemetery. So when life gets you down, visit a cemetery near you. Most are open from dawn till dusk. Let me know how you feel afterwards!