Monday Musings
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What I Learned From Reading the Obituaries

NY Times Obits

New York Times Obituaries

Every day I get an email with the daily Ted Talk.  I have to admit, I end up deleting the majority of them without opening the video.  But every now and then, a title catches my eye, and I decide I want to indulge.

“What I Learned from 2,000 Obituaries” which showed up in last week’s email fell in the latter category.  Here was the teaser:

“Lux Narayan starts his day with scrambled eggs and the question: ‘Who died today?’ Why? By analyzing 2,000 New York Times obituaries over a 20-month period, Narayan gleaned, in just a few words, what achievement looks like over a lifetime. Here he shares what those immortalized in print can teach us about a life well lived.”

Spoiler alert…I’m going to tell you the punch line in just a few sentences, so if you want to watch a very entertaining, short (for Ted Talks) and thoughtful piece, just click straight on the video (also inserted below).

The premise is easy to understand.  Reading the New York Times obituaries with a purpose and several analytical tools gives you a chance to have an insight into accomplishment and perhaps what really matters in life.  Narayan understands that many Times obituaries will be focused on people of fame.  So he sets up his review to include an equal amount of obituaries of people who are not well known, yet drew the interest of the paper’s famous obituary writers.

His findings?  (Okay, you’ve been warned about the spoiler that’s on the way.)

First it pays to be named “John.”

On a more serious note, the single word that jumped out of obituaries from both groups is “help.”  The overwhelming number of people – both famous and unknown – who were chosen to be immortalized in the Times obituary section, were celebrated for “making a positive dent in the fabric of life.  They helped.”

Narayan ends by suggesting that if more people lived their lives in order to be famous in death, the world we live in would be a better place today.

Good food for thought.  Have a great week.

More to come…


This entry was posted in: Monday Musings


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

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