In 2015, when former president Jimmy Carter learned that cancer had spread to his brain, he prayed — but not about what you think. “I didn’t ask God to let me live, but I asked God to give me a proper attitude toward death. And I found that I was absolutely and completely at ease with death,” Carter, who is 95-years-old, said Sunday during a sermon at his church in Georgia, according to CNN. 

Reflecting on what he would miss when he died, Carter told the crowd of churchgoers: “I was going to miss my family, and miss the work at the Carter Center, and miss teaching your Sunday school service sometimes and so forth. All those delightful things.”

The themes that Carter references — family, giving, spirituality — are among the true metrics of a life well-lived. But many people spend their lives chasing other forms of success, like money and power — and they don’t come to the conclusions that Carter has drawn until it’s too late. 

In this way, death can be our greatest teacher by helping us connect to the bigger picture of our lives. “We can spend our lives feverishly accumulating money and power as some sort of irrational, subconscious hedge against the inevitable. But that money and power will be no more permanent than we are,” Arianna Huffington, the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, wrote in her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. “Yes, you can pass on an inheritance to your children, but you can also pass down the shared experience of a fully lived life, rich in wisdom and wonder. To truly redefine success we need to redefine our relationship with death.” 

In other words, we can’t afford to live as if we’ll live forever (because we don’t). The denial of death can lead to empty, purposeless lives; while embracing death can bring so much richness, intention, and meaning to everything we do.

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  • Alexandra Hayes

    Content Director, Product & Brand, at Thrive

    Alexandra Hayes is a Content Director, Product & Brand, at Thrive. Prior to joining Thrive, she was a middle school reading teacher in Canarsie, Brooklyn.