How to Be Happy: Think About Your Funeral

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been seeing the word intention pop up a lot. As people set resolutions for the new year, they begin to think and talk more about this concept of living on purpose, of what you hope to put into and get out of life. I’ve even noticed a trend towards setting intentions instead of resolutions. I think this is brilliant, because setting intentions is a great way to figure out how to be happy.

But what the hell is an intention? And how do we decide which one to set? What does that even mean – setting an intention?

intention: what one intends to do or bring about

intend:to have in mind as a purpose or goal

So basically, you begin with the end in mind.

You focus on what you want to happen. It’s like the opposit of goal setting, which usually involves specific steps and timelines and actions to take. Intentions don’t bother themselves with all those details; we just think about the finish line and trust that the how will happen.

I know, it sounds unrealistic and overly optimistic. It can also be overwhelming to try to figure out how things will “end up”, which is why I generally try to concentrate on just doing the next right thing. But if you can’t figure out what that next step is, or in which direction you should even be looking, imagining the end can help you find the beginning.

When setting intentions for the year, we imagine what we want the end of the year to look like.

When setting intentions for life, I find it’s helpful to think of my funeral.

“What do you want people to say at your funeral?” I asked Jared during a recent car ride. It is, I’m sure, an absolute joy to ride in the car with me.

“Why are we talking about this?” he asked.

“Because knowing what you want said at your funeral helps me know how you want to live your life.”

“What do you want people to say at your funeral?”

“I want people to say that I inspired them to do something scary. I want them to say that they learned something from me.”

“Of course you have an answer for that.”

“I think about these things, Jared. What do you want people to say about you?” I asked again.

“I want people to say I was a nice, cool guy.” This is not the response I wanted from my husband, but it isn’t at all surprising if you know the man. He makes a lot of decisions based on whether or not he will be perceived as nice or cool.

“What about when you’re old? What does that look like to you?” I asked, hoping to get a better look at his deepest dreams and aspirations.

“I don’t know. Who knows this stuff?”

“I do!” I said again. “When I think of myself as an old lady, I imagine a small apartment lined with bookshelves, and the shelves are stuffed with books and photos and memories from grand adventures I’ve had during my life. I imagine being surrounded by memories, a small family, and a few good friends.”

“I imagine I look good.” I’m pretty sure he wiggled his eyebrows at me, signaling that he was done with this line of conversation.

In Jared’s defense, I don’t suppose most people do think about their funerals or old age, especially not in their thirties. I’m probably weird like that. But I think if we did, if we just closed our eyes and allowed our ideal future to materialize, we’d get a great clue into what would make us happy today.

Taking the time to think about what we want for our lives gives us a better chance of reality being at least close to our dreams. It gives us direction, a North to turn towards when we’re looking for the next step to take.

Go ahead.

Close your eyes.

Imagine yourself at the end of your life, a life you have loved and are prepared to leave with no regrets.

What do you see?

What did you do that made you happy?

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  1. Naomi says:

    mmmm, loved this post, Britt! Our family talks often about our funerals. Where they will be (happens when you have a mother who lives in Kenya), who will come, what music will be played. Who will come is a conversation that sparks the biggest discussion.For me, I would love if whole hoards of people came to my funeral, and when asked why they came, were able to say "because she was kind to me" or "because she answered a silly question I had" or "because she inspired me to do better than I did the day before"

  2. Carly says:

    First of all, it makes me happy that other people out there (even if only just you) have the same sorts of conversation dynamics as my husband and I. Second, I don't think you're weird. At all. I mean, doesn't everyone obsess about their mortality, envision their old age and fret about what people will think about the sum total effect of their life after they've died? Hasn't everyone been doing that since like, puberty? Uh, I know that's not exactly what you were getting at, but it makes me feel less like a weirdo to read this post :D And I thank you for that, from the bottom of my heart.And so I think what people will say is that I always did what I set my mind to but what I hope to add to that over the years is that I changed the world for the better. Even if for only one person.

  3. Megan says:

    I actively avoid thinking about a time when I will cease to exist. But if pressed, I simply want to come to the end of my time here feeling like I didn't miss anything important. And honestly, that keeps changing. But the constant is that I want to be missed. I want the people I care for most to know that I am gone and wish that wasn't so. But I'd also like them to believe that I would never leave them and will always be there.

  4. at my funeral i want people to have their hearts explode with joy at the thought of my happiness at knowing that i finally have the answers to the great unknown while their hearts simultaneously break that i am no longer around to share with them the rocking roller coaster of life. i want people to be thankful i am in no pain while they feel the intense sadness that goes with not being able to pick up the phone and ask me to join them on an adventure. most of all i want people to say they never questioned my vast love for them. yep, that pretty much sums it up.

  5. Katharina says:

    It's not weird to think about these things. But personally I don't really worry about what other people will say at my funeral, because that's all about their perception of me and my life, and I don't bother much about that, but how I see it and feel about it. The few people whose opinions really do matter to me – who knows if they'll even be at my funeral? I'd never find out anyway… So in the end it's all about how I look back on my own life and I try to live so that I hope to have little or no regrets. A happy new year to you and your family (it's not too late for that, is it?)Kath.

  6. Kent @ NVR says:

    I love that you say "What did you do that made you happy?" Perfect.

  7. the muskrat says:

    I actually think about this a decent amount, because I've been to 4 friends' funerals (thanks to breast cancer) fairly recently, and 2 more of my friends just got diagnosed with it. All are lawyers; all are smart women who took good care of themselves. I thought all of them would "beat" it and come out okay. I think about what was said after only 30-something years. I wonder who would buy a plane ticket or a few tanks of gas to come if I went in my 30s. Who would cry. Who would say, "Fuck it–let's go get a beer…it's what he would've wanted us to do today." Who would speak. Who would listen. Who would skip it. Who would blog about it afterward. I think NOT thinking about the big picture when you go through life is no way to go through life at all.

  8. Thinking about the difference I make in the world and in people's lives does indeed me appreciate my own life more, but thinking about my funeral just makes me…queasy. But I guess some people are better equipped than others to think about their own demise.

  9. Sheila says:

    I've been thinking a lot about my own funeral lately. This is mostly because I witnessed almost four hundred people come out to pay their respects to the most important woman in my life – and hundreds more pay their respects to our family but were unable to attend. She would have never thought that she'd have that many people who could say "She touched my life" in some way. I want to love and be loved like she did. Unconditionally and unending.

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