Don't forget, you're going to die. Feeling happier now?
That's the ironic promise of a smartphone app called WeCroak, which pings your phone five times a day, every day, reminding you that you're going to die.
Its creators say the app (which was inspired by a Bhutanese folk saying "To be a happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily") helps you to stop sweating the small stuff. It's also a nudge to stop wasting time on things you don't value and paying attention to what has meaning or will bring happiness (i.e. stop doom scrolling and spend time with someone you love).
Since the app was created in 2017, nearly 200,000 people have signed up to get the reminders. It's also gotten a boost from the coronavirus, said WeCroak co-founder Hansa Bergwall.
"We've grown quite a bit since the pandemic," he said. "Today it's not brushed off or laughed at as quickly."
In fact, there's a cottage industry offering death reminders, including Twitter accounts called Daily Death Reminder, self-help blogs on how to remind yourself that you're going to die, online "Death Clocks" that count down the number of seconds you have to live and Etsy vendors putting death reminders on T-shirts, coins, jewelry, calendars, patches, stickers and coffee mugs.
Call it memento mori for the digital age.
At least some of this interest in dwelling on death seems to be driven by a new stoicism movement.
For those of you not up on your ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, stoicism is a school of thought advocated by deep thinkers like Seneca, Epictetus and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Among other things, stoics advocate an emotional resiliency in the face of setbacks. We can't control many of the bad things that happen to us, stoics say, but we can control how we react.
"Stoicism offers you a way of thinking how to cope with this world," said University of Minnesota philosophy professor Valerie Tiberius.
Interest in stoicism has exploded in recent years, fueled by advocates like Ryan Holiday host of The Daily Stoic podcast, and organizations like Modern Stoicism, which has been hosting an annual international convention called Stoicon.
For many, stoicism offers some solutions for how to live a good life in an anxious age, said philosophy professor William Irvine, author of "The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher's Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient," one of the many new books on the subject.
"As a philosophy, stoicism is eminently hackable," Irvine said. "We live in a time where it's cool to be a self-described stoic."
And one of the things stoics like to do is to regularly remind themselves that they're going to die. They claim it's an invigorating practice to help them live life to the fullest.
Irvine recommends what he calls "last-time meditations." As you go through your mundane, even annoying daily tasks, reflect on the idea that this could be the last time you mow the lawn, wash the dishes or get stuck in rush-hour traffic. Because someday, at the end of your life, you may be looking back on these routine tasks and realize how wonderful it would be to do something simple like wash the dishes.
"These last-time meditations may sound depressing, but they have the power to infuse everyday occurrences with meaning," Irvine wrote.
Putting death into life
"For me, it's a personal reminder that tomorrow is never promised," said Jay Rosales , a 28-year-old Las Vegas resident who discovered stoicism by watching YouTube videos. "Everything is going right, until it doesn't."
Rosales said when the pandemic killed his marketing company, he turned to stoicism. He now has a business on Etsy called Stoic Lifestyle, selling mortality reminding tchotchkes: coins that say "Remember you will die," T-shirts that say, "Memento Mori," stickers honoring Marcus Aurelius.
The movement seems to attract younger people. Most of Rosales customers are under 40. WeCroak app is especially popular with men between 20 and 40, according to Bergwall.
Rosales said reminding yourself that you're going to die may prompt you to stop procrastinating on important goals.
"It pushes you to get out of your comfort zone," he said.
Susan Lawrence, who deals with death professionally, says even she needs a reminder that she's going to die. The Lake Elmo woman is an end-of-life doula who provides emotional support to people who are dying through her business, Adeste.
Lawrence signed up for the WeCroak app when she heard about it.
"I spend my time working with others on their own mortality, but I don't always stop and think, 'That's me, too,' " said Lawrence, 66. "I think it helps you live more intentionally."
Confront, don't dwell
For all the appeal of stoic thoughts of death, Tiberius said it's possible to take it too far.
"Some people, if they think about their death, will ruminate about it in an anxious way," Tiberius said. "My dad just turned 80. He does not want to think about his death."
In an essay she wrote for Philosophers' magazine, she cautions against always "living each day as if it were your last." The wise person is able to shift perspectives, according to Tiberius, sometimes focusing on the moment, but also being able to plan for the future.
If everyone lived each day just for today, no one would bother to save money in a 401(k) or study for a graduate degree or get a colonoscopy.
But stoics like William Irvine say you don't need to fixate on death, just give it attention from time to time.
"They are momentary, impromptu exercises, and rather than depressing, they can be curiously revitalizing," Irvine writes in his book.
Unlike other apps that are engineered to be addictive time sucks, Bergwall said his WeCroak app is intentionally designed as a brief, transitory pause, a micro attitude adjustment.
Clicking on five daily death reminders (each with a quote) should take up less than two minutes of the 1,440 you have each day, Bergwall said.
That approach appeals to Lawrence.
"If you think about something often, it's not quite as scary," she said. "If we can make friends with the idea we're going to have an end date, we're going to live much better."