A new paper published in Personality and Social Psychology Review looks over the accumulated evidence and concludes that thinking about death can make your life better. Previous terror management research has focused on the dark side of our psychological protections: Psychologists say that reminders of death can make us more hostile toward people we see as outside our own group. But researchers led by Kenneth E. Vail III at the University of Missouri, Columbia, say the perks of morbid thinking are too great to ignore.
Coping and defense mechanisms that have both adaptive and maladaptive dimensions come into play when anxiety is triggered, so there will inevitably be upsides and downsides to the way we react to thoughts of death. At the individual level, habitual patterns of defense, and the flexibility or inflexibility of coping and defense mechanisms, significantly influence the adaptive value of our thoughts about death. From the psychodynamic perspective, this is true for all psychological threats, which is also why individual patterns of coping and defense are central considerations in understanding personality.