Death reminder apps: best form of mindfulness?

Posted: 13/02/2018

When it comes to mindfulness apps, we are all pretty familiar with very popular apps such as Headspace. However, what about an alternate version of mindfulness: death reminder apps? Well, you are in luck. The recently created app WeCroak does exactly just that. Attempting to capitalise on the unprecedented success of the aforementioned apps such as Headspace created by a Buddhist monk who leads the meditation sessions, with the app having been downloaded over 19 million times.Whilst another leading mindfulness app, Calm, which provides soothing soundtracks and meditation sessions has surpassed over 15 million downloads. Whilst the most popular, they aren’t the only ones, in fact, it has been noted that at least 1,000 mindfulness apps exist worldwide, all with the intention of making you more mindful about life.

But where does this leave WeCroak, what exactly is the death reminder app doing, and does it really work? We explain what exactly the slightly subversive mindfulness app on the market does, and what are the benefits of using it.

How do death reminder apps work?

Focusing on the WeCroak app,  it is main aim which is pretty self-explanatory given its branding is to remind the user of their own mortality on a regular basis. The death reminder app is ad-free, and simply sends its user five reminders each and every day. This is achieved by sending a famous quote about death such as ‘the grave has no sunny corners’, or a general fact such as ‘Life is short’ or ‘Don’t forget, you’re going to die’ at randomised times. Words come from all different sources, such as Charles Bukowski, Emily Dickinson, Margaret Atwood, Pablo Neruda, and Lao Tzu. It is then recommended that you take some time out to contemplate the quote about death you have received from a philosopher, notable thinker or poet. This mostly takes the form of meditation or conscious breathing.

The motivation behind death reminder apps?

However, what was the inspiration for the app’s creators Ian Thomas, a freelance app developer and publicist Hansa Bergwall? Well, WeCroak was inspired by a famous Bhutanese maxim, a saying that explains that in order for one to be truly happy in themselves, they must consider death at least five times a day.  Bergwall told The Atlantic in further detail about how the prototype came to fruition “I would get to the end of the day and realize I’d forgotten the entire day to think about death…And it occurred to me, This is so easy: I could just get my phone to remind me.”. In addition, he told the New York Times that  “Meditation urges you to focus on your breath…it’s the same thing with remembering that you’re mortal. You forget, so you need something strong, someone, telling you straight out, being blunt about it.’

Do death reminder apps work?

The creators believed, from their own experience having previously studied Himalayan ashrams and beliefs around Buddhism prior to creating the app, that regular practising the idea of meditating on one’s own mortality, can help people to achieve self-acceptance. This in itself can lead people to find the impetus for change or find a way in order to let go of things or fears that do not matter.

It seems to have worked: the app, which is only 99p has now made its way into the top ten paid Health and Fitness apps on Apple.

It could be that part of its success can be attributed to the fact that is breaking a cultural taboo – talking about death.  Many people still feel deeply uncomfortable talking about any aspect of death, despite its inevitability. Recent statistics show just how many people in the UK still feel find approaching the subject of death extremely difficult:

  • A recent ComRes poll for Dying Matters (a coalition of public and voluntary sector organisations: The Guardian) stated that only 16% of people in the UK agreed that there was actually enough support available for death and bereavement.
  • A poll in 2015 by ComRes showed that more than two-thirds of the population in the UK feel too uncomfortable to talk about any aspect of death. This includes things to do with death and dying including making wills, organising life insurances for themselves or partners, end-of-life care, as well as registering for organ donation.
  • Whilst the majority find it very difficult to talk about their own end-of-life plans, many people in the UK find it even harder to ask loved ones about their preferences. Only 18 percent of adults had felt comfortable enough to ask their relatives or friends about their end-of-life wishes.
  • In the same poll that interviewed over 2000 people, these results also revealed that only 7 percent of people had considered their impending death enough in order to have them written down so that loved-ones could read their end-of-life care and wishes should they be unable to make these decisions for themselves.

With these slightly depressing statistics in mind, in research provided by the Dying Matters Coalition, and given the importance of making end-of-life decisions, as well as making the most of life, maybe death reminder apps like WeCroak could be a very effective way to encourage greater openness about death.

Changing a nation’s approach to death, is incredibly important, as a societal change will enable all of us to find it easier to make our life wishes known, and live more in the moment. Whilst talking about death will never necessarily be the most fun or happiest conversation to have, it doesn’t make the discussion any less important. It should be noted that we have also rather positively, seen the rise of death cafes come to fruition. Where people discuss freely death in a neutral environment over a cup of tea and cake, often amongst strangers, in order to increase an awareness of death in order to help them get the most out of their lives. If we can make talking about death less of a taboo, it can prevent people living in denial about the idea of their own mortality, as well as not put vital end-of-life wishes in place.