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2,000 Obituaries Reveal the Most Common Word

National Public Radio recently aired a segment on dying well and what the living can learn from the lives of the deceased. The segment featured a marketing expert named Lux Narayan. Narayan and his employees examined 2,000 editorial, non-paid New York Times obituaries over a 20-month period between 2015 and 2016. What surprised them was that the most common word in the obituaries was “help”:

I was fascinated when I saw that word because when you're analyzing 2,000 paragraphs of text, you wouldn't expect one or two words to stick out and stand out as prominently as this did. And what we found fascinating when we went through some of those descriptors was the fact that the help took on different contexts. For example, Reverend Rick Curry, who helped veterans and disabled people by running writing and acting workshops. There's Jocelyn Cooper, who was a grassroots organizer in Brooklyn in the 1960s. And she helped pave the way for the first African-American woman to sit in the US Congress.

It's beautiful that the people … are remembered … in terms of helping people … And even more fascinating was the fact that the overwhelming majority of obituaries featured people famous and non-famous who did seemingly extraordinary things. They made a positive dent in the fabric of life. They helped … It was beautiful how that word stood out so strongly.

Possible Preaching Angles:

1) Easter; Redeemer; Savior – In his death (and resurrection) Jesus is the supreme example of unselfishly helping others. He came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28); 2) Church, Mission of; Help; Serve - Christ followers should also have the goal that the significant word of their own life will be “helped.”


Guy Raz, “Lux Narayan: What Do Obituaries Teach Us About Lives Well-Lived?” NPR (9-7-18)

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