Are us human beings the only animal that is aware of the concept of mortality- of death and the scary finality of it? And, if so, is that why we struggle with our mental health so much? Because our brains are the most evolved and therefore the most prone to overthinking? My opinion, perhaps being rather contrary to popular belief, is that no, human beings are not the only animal aware of their own mortality, with this being evident in the way in which other animals practice ‘fight or flight.’ They know to run from predators because they know that failing to do so would result in death catching up to them. Human beings are, however, the only animal who overthink their own mortality to such an extent that it, often adversely, impacts upon their mental health.
The real question we should be asking, then, is not; ‘are other animals aware of their own mortality?’, but rather ‘are other animals bothered about having such awareness?’ (The awareness that, one day, they, like all of us, will be no more.)
Whilst no one likes the idea of dying (excluding people who are suicidal, of course, but that’s a whole other post), what separates humans from every other animal in the animal kingdom is, in my opinion, the human tendency to dwell on it (with ‘it’ meaning dying…)
As previously mentioned, all animals have an inbuilt ‘fight or flight’ instinct which sees them avoiding situations where the risk of death is heightened. Based on this knowledge then, it is evident that, like humans, other animals do indeed understand what it means to die. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t run when being chased by a predator because they wouldn’t have any reason to (with no concept of what it means to die, they would believe themselves to be immortal.) Animals however do have a reason to run away from danger, what with them evidently being ‘on the same page’ as humans are in terms of the awareness they have of their own mortality. Something which they aren’t all on the same page about, however, is their tendency to dwell on their mortality.
You see, unlike humans, death is something which other animals only think about when they are put directly into a situation whereby the risk of them dying is present (when they are being chased by a predator, for example.) If only us humans could adopt such a rational approach which would see us worrying about dying solely when the threat of it is imminent, then maybe we could all spend more time living in the present, counting our blessings every day for the miracle we have been given that is life, instead of spending it worrying about the future and of dying as we do now, something which we lack any sort of control over anyway, and is therefore a futile activity to engage in.
Because we have no control over our own mortality, it is best for us to avoid excessively worrying about it (I know that this is probably a lot easier said than done…) The reality, though, is that none of us can possibly know what comes next or even, if anything comes next at all (personally I think that there is something ‘else’, but I know that many people differ from this point of view), therefore isn’t it just such a waste of what might be all there is and all there will ever be to throw it away thinking about one moment- the moment of death? Wouldn’t it be so much better for the human race if we could all adopt the approach taken by our non-human counterparts? An approach which sees them only thinking about their mortality when they are put in immediate danger which forces them to confront its stark reality? If we can do this (adopt the approach demonstrated by every other species in the animal kingdom), then we too can all lead less worrisome lives, swapping them for simpler, happier existences instead, existences which take us ‘back to basics’, helping to put us ‘on track’ to preserve our mental health and, subsequently, helping to reduce the mental health epidemic we find ourselves caught up in…