Living a life without regret: 8 ways accepting mortality can make you a better person

How do you live a life without regret? 

It’s much more than living in the present or reaching some “higher vibration,” as some New Age gurus will tell you. 

The reality is that a truly fulfilling life starts by facing mortality. 

If that sounds like a paradox, it is! But it’s only by facing up to the reality that life won’t last forever that we can become the most authentic, empowered and effective version of ourselves. 

Here’s how to live a life without regret!

1) Invest in meaningful relationships

Remembering that you’re mortal helps bring all relationships into focus. 

Simply put, there are those worth investing in that will stand the test of time and those that will not. 

By accepting mortality, you can better direct your energy toward relationships that mean something to you and that are reciprocal and deep. 

This can lead to realizing you’ve been expending too much energy and attention on people who don’t truly value you or only want to use you, whereas those who truly care about you like family and close friends won’t be around forever. 

Loving them and caring for them then becomes a priority.

“Memento mori reminds us of the impermanence of all things, including the people we hold dear,” explains psychologist Jodi Wellman, MAPP.

“This realization can lead to more meaningful and authentic connections with others.”

2) Get your life priorities straight and commit

The next thing that comes into focus and makes you a better person is your pursuit of your goals. 

You begin doing your absolute best to align your actions with your values:

There’s no more room for dishonesty or half-measures. Because you have accepted death, you have also accepted that being true to yourself and committing to your goals is also up to you. 

Wellman points out that when we contemplate our mortality “we become more attuned to our deepest desires and passions” and this in turn “guides our decisions and actions, leading us toward a life that is more meaningful and authentic.”

You can’t do it all, but by finding a clarity of what means the most to you in your work life and your personal life, you can direct most of your energy towards that and see real progress. 

3) Live more authentically and be true to yourself

When you recognize and accept mortality, you stop wanting to hide from who you really are. 

Life’s too short to spend it playing a role or trying to please others. 

You become a better person because you become a more genuine person

As psychology writer Jacqueline Rose puts it:

“When people are faced with a final goodbye to this planet, it becomes clear to them who they wanted to be, what they wanted to do. Taking the time to think about that now gives us a chance to pursue what is really important to us.”

This, in turn, allows others to also become more authentic and express who they really are as well. 

It’s a reciprocal empowering cycle where recognizing that life is temporary allows you to be true to your deepest values and experiences and communicate them to others. 

Who do you really want to be? Accepting you won’t be around forever puts that question into bright focus. 

4) Cultivate courage in the face of life’s obstacles and risks

It can be hard to find courage during challenging times in life or risky situations.

But accepting and remembering death can make you a braver person. Knowing you’ll die can help cultivate the mindset of not fearing what may happen since it will ultimately end the same regardless. So you might as well take calculated risks and face your fears!

“Memento mori can embolden us to take risks, face our fears, and pursue our dreams,” explains philosophy and psychology writer Tobias Weaver.

Facing your fears becomes more of a priority and something you can actually commit to, because you no longer crave safety guarantees quite as much. 

In the end none of us will be perfectly safe, so taking a few chances and facing down dark situations becomes more feasible. 

Remembering mortality reminds us that taking a chance and facing danger is something we are capable of. 

5) Foster real gratitude for the simple things

When you recognize the reality of mortality and accept it, you gain a deep appreciation for the simple things:

A steaming cup of delicious coffee when you wake up…

A hug from a loved one or family member…

A warm bed at night when you’re feeling tired. 

As Wellman explains

“Contemplating our mortality reminds us that our time on this planet is limited (to roughly 4,000 weeks if you’d like to get specific). It encourages us to savor our moments and appreciate even the simplest pleasures.”

Understanding that your time is limited makes you see the immense value of the small things in life and how precious they all are. 

This is especially true of those people, places and experiences that brighten our lives and give them beauty and depth. 

6) Empathy built on a deep recognition of mortality

Everyone shares the same fate, and we’re ultimately all in the same boat. 

This tends to make you appreciate and have compassion for others at a deep level. 

No matter how much you may disagree with them or have competing interests, they’re not going to be around forever and neither are you:

This is a sobering, sad and scary thought, but it’s also liberating in a way. 

It means there’s no need to hang on to grudges or focus on what you dislike about others. Ultimately we’re all on the same boat regardless. So we have to find some way to get along! 

This brings up the next way that accepting mortality can make you a better person…

7) Forgive and let go of wrongs and harms that are in the past

Accepting mortality can go a long way to helping let go of wrongs and injustices that happened in the past. 

When you think of how short life is and become more accustomed to accepting it, the pain that happened before is something you’re more willing to process:

You want to let it go so you can live life with an open heart and mind.

“In many Western cultures, death is seen as a taboo, and is often not talked about,” observes clinical psychologist Dr. Rachel Menzies.

“This culture of silence around death can make it difficult to normalize death, to talk freely about it, and to cultivate an attitude of acceptance.”

Here’s the thing about forgiveness in the light of mortality:

You want to let it go so you’re not giving your time and energy to somebody or something in the past which wronged you. 

You become much more focused on what you want and what you’re aiming for than on what you dislike or what hurt you in the past. 

A lot of this starts with becoming more comfortable with discussing the reality of death at the individual and cultural level. 

8) Work on having a positive impact and leaving a legacy

Having a positive impact on life is something many of us aspire to. 

But it becomes even more of a priority for many when they think of mortality and how short life can be. 

Leaving a legacy is something that’s more than just a buzzword. It becomes a reality. 

As Wellman advises, accepting our mortality is a plus because “it encourages us to consider the legacy we might leave behind. What impact will we have on the world, and how will we be remembered?”

And whether it’s through having kids, our career accomplishments or the love and support we leave behind, leaving a legacy becomes a very real consideration. 

Aiming for a balanced life 

Memento mori, or remembering and accepting mortality, can help make you a better person with a more balanced life. 

The Stoic philosopher Seneca put it aptly when he advised us to “postpone nothing” and “balance life’s books each day.”

The truth is that death throws everything into sharp contrast:

The important relationships, goals and experiences in life become crystal clear as the less meaningful people, places and aspects of life fall away.

You stop postponing, making excuses, trying to please others or trying to live up to an imagined ideal. You begin living life for the real experience each day and in pursuit of longer-term, meaningful goals. 

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