I’ve read it all.
Everything about how to live a long and happy life.
What foods to avoid. What habits to avoid. What risk factors could end your life prematurely.
If you want the status of living to 100 years or more, then there’s a list of dos and don’ts a mile long. You must study the Blue Zones, pop the right supplements, be fanatical about your health, and not forgot porridge for breakfast—or the occasional colonic.
Which begs the question:
Why aim to live longer when you could just aim to live more?
And that’s where books about dying seem to have an edge.
In the past year, I’ve been reading a lot about dying. Mike Dooley’s The Top 10 Things Dead People Want to Tell You. Anita Moorjani’s Dying to Be Me. Bronnie Ware’s The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. I even scrounged an old copy of Mitch Albom’s 1997 bestseller Tuesdays with Morrie.
What I found was this:
Books about dying have a lot of living in them.
More than books about living, strangely.
While books about living focus on how to cheat death, books about dying focus on how to squeeze more life out of every drop.
After all, our time here on Earth is limited. That’s largely out of our control. We could do everything the longevity gurus tell us and still get hit by a car or struck down by an inexplicable illness.
So, instead of wasting our lives following health advice to the letter, in hopes of carving out a few extra years at the end…
Why not pack as much life into every moment as we can?
All of us are aware of a vague tendency to take each day for granted. We have a routine, we stick to it, and we hope we’ll live long enough to enjoy retirement and grandchildren. That’s it, really. That’s life.
So why do we want more of the same?
Wouldn’t it be better to wake up each morning brimming with excitement, full of gratitude and joy for this gift of another dawn?
And who better to teach us than those at the end of their lives, who understand better than us what a great blessing it is to take tomorrow for granted?
Death is a fine teacher, if you can stomach his lessons.
Many cultures throughout history valued the presence of death. Knowing how closely death stalks us, these ancient cultures learned to appreciate and embrace life. As Carlos Castaneda wrote, “Death is the only wise advisor that we have.”
And studies confirm it.
Older folks, who face the reality of death each time another friend succumbs to cancer or a heart attack, are inexplicably happier than younger folks.
The older they get—and the less time they have remaining—the happier they get. Why?
A 2011 study published in Psychology and Aging points to some answers.
As people age and time horizons grow shorter, people invest in what is most important, typically meaningful relationships, and derive increasingly greater satisfaction from these investments.” 
In other words, the less time we have, the more we re-evaluate how we spend our time. We don’t waste it binge-watching Game of Thrones or trying to install a new app on our phone. We spend it doing the things we love most.
No, that’s not eating ice cream or sitting on the beach. Although both those things are undeniably nice.
It’s being with other people.
(Which could include eating ice cream or sitting on the beach, if you really want to be hedonistic.)
Cultivating “meaningful relationships,” as the experts put it.
Bronnie Ware found that the dying folks she cared for wished they’d given their friendships more time and care.
After a near-death experience, Anita Moorjani found herself investing more time in the relationship she’d neglected the most: the one with herself.
And Mike Dooley tells us that love is everywhere. We’re made of love, and we can never be separate from it.
The best thing you can learn from the dying, it seems, is that time is too short to waste doing things just because you feel you should.
If there’s no love in it, if there’s no heart in it, then find an alternative.
Try this exercise. Imagine yourself at the end of your life. Consider how you might think back on the person you are today.
Are you spending your days on things that really matter? Do you appreciate all the good that comes your way? Are you going to be satisfied with your use of time when you look back in ten years?
Exercises like that are transformative. They can wake us up to missed opportunities.
So make room in your life for death. Don’t shoo it out the door. Welcome it as a reminder of how precious each day is.
When your life is awesome, there’s no regret in knowing that all good things must come to an end.