What can we learn from obituaries to take the measure of our own lives?
This is the question that Lux Narayan, an entrepreneur from New York, began to ask himself whilst reading an obituary in the New York Times.
He gleaned, in just a few words, what achievement looks like over a lifetime. In his Ted talk he shares what our loved one’s obituaries can teach us about a life well lived.
Lux looked over 2,000 editorial, non-paid obituaries, over a 20 month period between 2015 and 2016.
He looked at their words; taking descriptors and feeding them into a language processing programme, which took out all the filler words and left the significant ones.
Forty percent of the people were involved in film, theatre, music, dance and art.
“You have to wonder why, in so many societies, we insist that our kids pursue engineering or medicine or business or law to be construed as successful” he said.
An overwhelming majority of the obituaries featured people, famous and non-famous, who achieved extraordinary things. The average age of the people, when they achieved their greatest achievement, was 37 years old.
“What that means is, you've got to wait 37 years before your first significant achievement that you're remembered for” Lux said.
The ultimate lesson
According to Lux’s Ted talk, most of these people “made a positive dent in the fabric of life,” and “helped” society.
“So ask yourselves as you go back to your daily lives: How am I using my talents to help society?” he said.
“Because the most powerful lesson here is, if more people lived their lives trying to be famous in death, the world would be a much better place.”