My to-read book pile is massive, and I often joke that I have no shelf control. But lifelong learning is my oxygen, so this is also a piece of self-care.
However, I was shocked to hear the name of a book recently that I had never heard of before. And because it is a Pulitzer Prize-winner about psychology, and I have an Honours Psychology degree, I was even more stunned that I wasn’t familiar with it.
Anthropologist Ernest Becker wrote The Denial of Death. As author Mark Manson writes, “it would become one of the most influential intellectual works of the twentieth century, shaking up the fields of psychology and anthropology, while making profound philosophical claims that are still influential today.”
Becker believed that we can’t embrace death and therefore spend our lives trying to deny death and live on forever. Manson writes, “Becker called such efforts our ‘immortality projects,’ projects that allow our conceptual self to live on way past the point of our physical death. All of human civilization, he says, is basically a result of immortality projects: the cities and governments and structures and authorities in place today were all immortality projects of men and women who came before us. They are the remnants of conceptual selves that ceased to die. Names like Jesus, Muhammad, Napoleon, and Shakespeare are just as powerful today as when those men lived, if not more so. And that’s the whole point. Whether it be through mastering an art form, conquering a new land, gaining great riches, or simply having a large and loving family that will live on for generations, all the meaning in our life is shaped by this innate desire to never truly die.”
Powerful. But the flip side is that we also must remember to live. And be happy doing it.
Manson writes, “Whether you are listening to Aristotle or the psychologists of Harvard or Jesus Christ or the goddamn Beatles, they all say that happiness comes from the same thing: caring about something greater than yourself, believing that you are a contributing component in some much larger entity, that your life is but a mere side process of some great unintelligible production. This feeling is what people go to church for; it’s what they fight in wars for; it’s what they raise families and save pensions and build bridges and invent cell phones for: this fleeting sense of being part of something greater and more unknowable than themselves.”
Where do we find our happiness? What are the projects that we consciously or unconsciously are focused on to help us make our mark and be remembered? Life is so much bigger than us. But it’s the little things we do every day that make our big story. And as Margaret Atwood once said, “In the end, we’ll all become stories.”