There might be affiliate links on this page, which means we get a small commission of anything you buy. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Please do your own research before making any online purchase.
Every so often, a quote comes along that not only sticks with us but also makes us think. Many of these come from movies and other popular forms of entertainment. Often, these quotes are attributed to someone famous, but they are merely creations of the writers of the movie. This is the case with the quote “Death smiles at us all.”
The whole quote is actually “Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back.” The quote was said by the character Maximus in the movie, Gladiator. He attributes it to Marcus Aurelius.
However, history shows that this quote was never actually said by Aurelius, although you can see why it was something that illustrates the man's philosophy of life.
Aurelius was a stoic and this is definitely something that a stoic would say as, on one level, it illustrates the “It is what it is” thinking of stoics. This quote can be interpreted literally, or it can be applied to a wide variety of situations.
Let's take a deeper look at 3 lessons to be learned from this quote.
What You Will Learn
Interpreting the Quote: Where to Begin
Death-smiles can bring up different images to different people. The different images have a great deal to do with how this quote can be interpreted.
Do you see death-smiles as a type of leer or as an evil grin upon the face of an enemy that is about to bring you pain? Or is the smile a gentle one that offers solace at a time when fear may be raging? Yet another kind of smile is that of pure happiness that welcomes one to a joyful reward.
Another aspect of interpreting this quote falls on our meaning of what Death represents. It can be a literal ending of a life or a stand-in description of any ending or even change. In most instances, it represents hardship or adversity, but it can also represent relief and reward.
As we look to interpret this quote in particular, we need to also take into consideration the movie from which it came as it indicates a message from the writer within the context of the events that take place, as well as the very character of the main character, Maximus.
With these things in mind, here are three lessons you can take away from this quote.
Lesson #1: Meeting Death with a Smile
Death has been called “the great equalizer” because every living being dies eventually. No amount of money, fame or anything else can change that. Death is inevitable and is a natural part of life. We can't change that.
What we can do is decide how we look at this event. We can fight it, see it as a reward, or accept it peacefully as the natural order of things. One way to accept death peacefully is to know that you have lived fully.
Many cultures believe that your reward in life is to experience a good death. This is based on how well you lived your life. If you have been the best person, you possibly can be, you will be rewarded after death, according to these teachings.
You can smile back at death when he comes to call because you know you have nothing to fear. So, how do you live a good life?
The first thing to do is to put aside the fear of death. You know you can't avoid it, so worrying about it simply takes away the joy of living. Live fully. Learn what you can. Give when possible. Grow as a person.
Live your life in a way that you feel no regrets and when death smiles at you, you can smile back, knowing you have lived a good life that has made a difference.
Lesson #2: Dealing with Adversity
Just as death is inevitable, so is adversity. We can not grow without the lessons that dealing with the unpleasant teach us. Have you noticed that every time you struggle with a situation and fight it, it seems to keep returning in a slightly different form?
This is because you have failed to accept the lessons that the situation is meant to teach you. You have resisted both change and growth as a human.
Here we can take lessons from nature. Think about the birds. They don't fear falling. A bird will spread its wings as soon as it is strong enough and soar. If it lands on the ground, it finds a way to continue strengthening its wings so it can try again.
The eagle that doesn't find food today will continue searching, knowing that food will be there eventually. It doesn't give up. It has faith.
When you cage a bird, it doesn't simply stop living. It sings just as beautiful as it did when it was free. It doesn't question its position. It accepts what is and makes the best of where it now finds itself.
If a tree finds its growth blocked by concrete, a building, or any other obstruction, it adapts and grows around that obstruction.
As humans, we tend to question why bad things happen. We give up when things get hard. Life is going to keep presenting situations you don't like. You can either moan about your misfortune and complain about what you are being asked to do or you can accept the situation and find a way through the adversity.
You can have faith in yourself and the universe. The faith that tells you to have strength, keep looking, and eventually, you will find what you need. You can grow.
Lesson #3: Staying Focused
Here is where the death-smiles quote can be interpreted based on the movie from which it originated. Maximus had a mission. He wanted to avenge the death of his good friend, Marcus Aurelius.
His path to this was filled with both danger and heartache. He was cast from the area where he served and returned home only to find his wife and children had been killed. He was then captured and forced into slavery.
He became a gladiator and perfected his skill, believing that one day he would earn his freedom and be able to accomplish his mission. He eventually came face-to-face with the killer of Marcus and, knowing he would lose, the adversary wounded Maximus, a wound that was fatal.
Maximus could have given up and simply died but he covered his wound with his armor and fought. When he finally succumbed to his wound, he was able to say he had not given up and had done his best to succeed. He was able to meet death's smile with one of his own.
Staying focused does not mean you have to put everything else aside. It means simply that you keep your ultimate goal in mind. You do what you can to take advantage of whatever situation you are in, having faith that the knowledge you gain will move you forward.
Practicing mindfulness can help you learn to maintain focus. It can also help you to stop and experience the current situation fully. This gives you the chance to see how you can use the situation to move you closer to your ultimate goal. Not giving up is essential in every aspect of life. If you give up, you will never get where you want to go.
Practice persistence in all matters. Don't allow grief, anger, or other negative emotions to rule. Meet every roadblock with a quiet knowing that you can find a way, you just need to be adaptable and willing to detour if necessary until you can get back on the path.
Final Thoughts on the Quote Death Smiles at Us All
“Death smiles on us all… All a man can do is smile back” has such profound meaning and much to take away. It is about living life with purpose. There are many ways you can live life with purpose. By living as fully as you can, you don't have time to fear death, nor do you need to.
You can't prevent adversity. You actually shouldn't even try to because it is during those bad times that we find our strength and grow. This doesn't mean you shouldn't grieve a loss. It only means you shouldn't allow that grief to take control and blind you to the path to happiness.
Focus, resisting the urge to give up, and being willing to adapt to a change in plans are all essential to reaching your goal. They are also part of living the fullest life you possibly can. You are not here to simply exist. The human mind is more complex than most of the living things on Earth. Yet, we would do well by taking lessons from all that exists beside us on this planet.
When adversity occurs, remind yourself of the caged bird singing and ask how you can take advantage of the newer opportunities the current situation presents. There is always something positive you can find, even in the worst of situations. Lastly, examine your view of death.
You will do well in following the path of many cultures in the world. View it not as something you need to fear or fight against. It is a battle you can't win. Think of it as a time to finally reap the rewards of a life that has seen growth and left an impact on the world.
Finally, if you want to use these quotes to make a lasting change to your life, then check out and recite these 57 affirmations for success.