If you’d excuse the rather confronting title, I’d like to invite you to undertake what I call the ‘Deathbed Experiment.’ It’s simple and goes like this:
Imagine you are on your deathbed and someone asks you: “What attitudes defined your life?” What would you want to be able to say?
This thought experiment never fails to move me in some way, and I always feel that it moves me in the right direction. I share this experiment with you today because I feel it is a useful tool for prioritizing our time and attention as effectively as possible. Furthermore, I feel it can help us accept without complaint those things in life we cannot change and prompt us to set about changing those things we can. To my mind, that’s a lesson that never gets old.
The Deathbed Experiment can also help us ‘live without dead time,’ as the phrase goes. It can help us keep life’s defining purpose (whatever that might be for each of us) at the forefront of our thoughts and, by doing so, keep us measuring the value of our actions in relation to whether we are furthering that purpose. Moreover, the Deathbed Experiment has the ability to suck us back into the present and keep us living ‘in the moment’ for as long and as often as possible.
In those times when we realize that we have lost the moment and stopped living deliberately, we might return to the Deathbed Experiment and at once find ourselves living deliberately again.
Taken seriously – and I would suggest it ought to be taken seriously or not at all – the Deathbed Experiment can provoke us to reflect on life’s big picture and what role our attitudes have in shaping it. I raise it for consideration today because I find that it can be particularly enlightening when it comes to thinking about our attitudes toward money and material possessions. Ask yourself: “On my deathbed, what attitudes will I have with respect to money and material possessions?” However we answer this question, let it shape our actions today.
My guess is that a person on their actual deathbed rarely says, “O how I wish I had spent more of my life working to pay for even more consumer goods.” However, I suspect that many people in consumer societies today might come to the end of life and question whether they should have dedicated so much of their time and energy to acquiring ‘nice’ material things, at the expense of various non-materialistic goods such as time with friends and family or time to engage in creative activity. Since life is much too precious to waste, we should do everything we can to avoid the terrible regrets of overconsumption and materialism. The Deathbed Experiment, I feel, can help.
To paraphrase Henry Thoreau, we should aim to live only what is life, so that we do not, when we come to die, discover that we had not lived.
What do you think of the Deathbed Experiment? Does it affect the way you think about money and material possessions?