As humans through history, we’ve asked many questions that are far beyond us; Questions such as: Where did morality originate from? Is there objective meaning?, and What did we originate from? But one question that everyone likes to ask would be: What happens when we die? Such a question has been answered by many great thinkers from Epicurus to David Henry Thoreau. This is because the idea of death is so grim, mysterious and scary to some people.


This is where Terror Management Theory comes in, which is a theory that proposes people try to control the anxiety of death which alters their choices in life. It was proposed by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Soloman, and Tom Pyszczynsk, but the idea primitively came from the anthropologist  Ernest Becker and his work The Denial of Death, which discusses the ways people and culture have reacted to the idea of death. Terror management theory is really just the developed version of Becker’s original idea. 


Terror management theory therefore states that the way we cope with anxiety of death is we believe certain things which is shown through culture. The simplest one would indeed be a belief in the afterlife as it creates an almost mental safety net for people, but an interesting question that could be asked would be wouldn’t people who believe in an afterlife not feel guilt over one's death (as they know the person who has died will go to the afterlife)? I think this question honestly shows that inherently people that believe in the afterlife are still vulnerable to the anxiety of death. (Indeed people who believe in the afterlife would say: “What if I miss them?”, indeed this is a valid concern but if we relatively compare the time on earth and in the afterlife it isn’t very significant) 


According to Terror management theory, death anxiety also expands to different parts of culture, and the thing is some people have a will to preserve themselves as their is conflict between living life and knowing you will die at some point, which leads many people to not only adopt a worldview to mitigate their anxiety of death but also do things on the mere basis of trying to preserve their own legacy. This can come into many forms, some people try writing books to permanently set their place in history, some have kids and try to pass off their legacy through future generations and to the extreme some commit acts of violence to preserve their legacy.

Believe Terror management theory or not, it’s really interesting to think about as it really questions intent with all actions and presents the conundrum of existing while knowing one we will no longer exist.