Humans all eventually die, and thanatophobia — fear of death — is a commonly shared fear, with research from Statista suggesting around 42% of people have some level of fear of death.

Yet some regularly contemplate death.

Writers like Søren Kierkegaard, Edgar Allan Poe and Gabriel García Márquez interrogated and explored what death would bring and would look like in their work. There’s an entire scientific field, thanatology, devoted to probing what happens when a person dies.

Perspective: Moving beyond ‘I’m sorry for your loss’

While many people to the tune of 70% feel comfortable discussing death, per British Social Attitudes, some still shy away from it. Confronting mortality and the complexities of death can bring up unexpected emotions or reveal deep-seated fears and concerns.

As Arthur Brooks said in The Atlantic, “For most people, death is hard to think about. We tend to avoid the subject — involuntarily, even.” In the thick of life, surrounded by family and friends, and conceiving of an optimistic and concrete future, thinking about death may seem like an unwelcome interruption into otherwise idyllic moments.

But as Brooks explored, thinking about death may bring happiness.

It’s a paradox to think of death as a “key to happiness,” as Brooks describes it, but it may have to do with meaning. He said, “People who express more regrets tend to be those who postponed profound activities that yield meaning, such as practicing religion, appreciating beauty, or spending more time with loved ones.” And thinking about death may be a way to imbue more meaning into one’s life.

When do children start to understand death?

In childhood, death seems more like an abstract concept than reality. In fact, it isn’t until preschool when children “may start to understand that adults fear death.” Stanford Medicine said the permanence of death doesn’t materialize in children’s minds until children are school-age. By the time children become teenagers, they can generally comprehend the finality and permanence of death.

How do communities remember their loved ones?

Communities and cultures have rituals and meaning associated with death. For many people, death is a transitory state between life and the next life. Some communities gather and bury and preserve their dead in a variety of ways.

For example, some of the Maori people perform a ritual dance called “manawa wera haka” in honor of their dead. Some Jewish people will have a mourning custom known as sitting shiva, which involves seven days of mourning. Singing songs like “Danny Boy” and holding a wake is how some Irish people remember those who have died. The experience of losing a loved one is universal and there are unique ways by which people remember those who have gone on before them.

Although death is a deeply present part of our culture, there is still uncertainty and fear associated with death, making it difficult to contemplate our own mortality. But there’s some tangible benefits which may result from doing so.

What benefits can thinking about death have?

For one, thinking about death may improve our health and help us to re-strategize our goals and life trajectory.

Scientific research, which Science Daily referenced, found this and also that “even non-conscious thinking about death — say walking by a cemetery — could prompt positive changes and promote helping others.”

In some ways, this is intuitive. Thinking about the prospect of the end of our lives may prompt a person to look inward and determine what impact he or she would like to have on society, their friends and their family. In turn, the process may spark changes in routine or trajectory to propel a person on the path to their goals.

There can be positive psychological benefits coming from thinking about death.

For example, thinking about death might contribute to a person being more likely to see a resurgence in creating and maintaining relationships or becoming more grateful. Psychology Today said those who contemplate death are more likely to “let go of resentments” and “refresh personal dreams and goals.”

Thinking about death can also have some negative effects.

When a University of Louisiana professor surveyed around 1,000 students about what they felt when they contemplated their own mortality, there were two common responses: fear and feeling “pleasure in being alive.” Scientific American reported on this study and said, “Within these few statistics lies the human condition. We cannot escape awareness of our mortality, and that awareness has the power to elicit fear or appreciation. Fortunately, the choice is ours.”