#OpinionOfTheDay

Thinking about death while I am young

I am 26, but I think about my death a lot.

Some might consider it strange, for my most productive years lie ahead of me and I should be full of optimism for my future.

But for a man who entered the workforce less than a year ago, plenty weighs heavy on my mind.

I am an adult now. I pay taxes. My friends are getting married and having children. I need to think of buying a house. I need to think of investing.

My thoughts have nothing to do with the Hungry Ghost Festival, though it is coincidental that I write about this subject in this period.

Rather, the boundless days of studenthood where anything and everything seemed possible have solidified into a path where I need to search for meaning in life.

Is it not true, though, that when we tell others we are searching for meaning in life, what we are really saying is that we want to be happy with what we have done by the time death comes?

I do not believe thinking about my death is pessimistic. This is my way of taking full control of my life, to know that when I shake the Grim Reaper's hand, I have at least planned for what happens after. It helps me focus on what I want to achieve in life, and what I want to experience in the coming years of joy, heartache, pain and promise.

One moment from my university days stands clearly in my memory.

It was the post-exam period of my final year, and I met a good friend to relax, hang out and talk about the future.

It was a lovely day and we chose to sit outside where we could hear children laughing and people chattering.

At one point, I told her that I wanted to write my will.

She gave me a funny look and told me: "That's weird."

I suppose that in the context of our conversation, full of hopes and possibilities for our lives ahead, it must have appeared a bit funny.

But it turns out my preoccupation with the part of life after life may not be so bizarre after all.

An international survey announced earlier this month by global consultancy firm McCann Worldgroup showed that younger people are more stressed out about ageing, and fear dying more than older people.

Nearly half of the Singaporeans surveyed below 30 years old constantly worried about getting older, whereas 36 per cent of those above 50 felt the same.

Almost 60 per cent of us below 30 agreed with the phrase "I am afraid of dying", compared with only 30 per cent of those more than 50 years old.

Globally, those who feared death the most were in their 20s.

So is this really a millennial thing? Or is it just a physical age thing?

Statistically speaking, it makes sense for those in their 20s to be most afraid of dying. After all, they have the most decades of unrealised potential left to live before life goes kaput.

I do wonder if this is a stage all young adults go through - a mild gnawing of despair at what waits for them at the end of the tunnel, before realising after some years that the black hole is much more grey, more mundane and less ominous than they thought it would be.

But some could also argue that this is a pessimistic world we live in. My future promises massive climate change, rising global inequality and growing political instability.

We may be the most educated generation, but studies have shown that our standards of living may not improve, compared with our parents'.

A February report by the Intergenerational Commission in Britain showed that, over there, while each generation throughout the 20th century earned more money than the previous one, millennials look to be the first generation whose wages will stagnate.

A study in the United States released late last year (http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/) also showed that American children now are much less able to grow up and earn a higher wage than their parents.

Neither does it help that I tend towards the paranoid end of the spectrum, where normal illnesses bring to mind diagnoses on the scale of brain cancer.

At this point I must thank the Internet, that modern invention, for allowing me to scare myself silly when searching online for the cause of that cough.

It remains to be seen if 2040 brings more filing of taxes than fire and brimstone.

Yet, for all that the McCann Worldgroup survey said, I do not fear death, though I think often about it.

Rather, I want to make sure I am prepared for it, and that I am happy with my achievements before the great beyond knocks on my door.

Prepared for it, in that what I leave behind will be dealt with the way I want, and that my finances will be in order.

So I am looking at life insurance, and should probably look into making a will - though the thought does make me shiver slightly.

Happy with my achievements, in that I have impacted the world around me in a way others remember as good and meaningful.

I do not believe thinking about my death is pessimistic.

This is my way of taking full control of my life, to know that when I shake the Grim Reaper's hand, I have at least planned for what happens after.

It helps me focus on what I want to achieve in life, and what I want to experience in the coming years of joy, heartache, pain and promise.

It is, in fact, an act of positivity. For what are death and life but different sides of the same coin?

In this sense, I repeat what many before me have said: That we should live every day as if it were our last, though now it tends to be typed in sans serif against a nice Instagram filter.

As for that list of things I want to achieve in the years ahead? It grows longer by the day.

And the more I stare at it, the more I find myself pushing these tasks into the future, where I will magically do all I promised myself I would do.

Procrastination. I know that is a universal trait across the generations.

But me? I'll do it while munching on avocado toast.

• #opinionoftheday is a column for younger writers in the newsroom to write about issues that matter to them and their peers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'Thinking about death while I am young'. Print Edition | Subscribe