Helen Nugent

Always look on the bright side of...death. What we really want at our funeral

Always look on the bright side of...death. What we really want at our funeral
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We Brits are a macabre bunch, more prone to thinking about glass half empty than glass half full. 'Expect the worst and you won't be disappointed,' could be our national mantra.

A landmark study published today by the London School of Economics reveals the key to human happiness - and it's not pots of money. Researchers say that most human misery can be attributed to failed relationships and physical and mental illness. All told, economic factors are not, er, factors in our well-being.

That doesn't stop us obsessing about cash, though. Nor does it prevent us from dwelling on inescapable financial outlays, such as paying for funerals, both for ourselves and for those we love. According to SunLife's annual Cost of Dying report, the average cost of a funeral is now £3,897.

Previously unreleased data by SunLife also reveals the regional disparities when it comes to paying for funerals.

If you live in the South East, then the sharpest rise in funeral costs has happened in your region - in just a year, costs here have soared by 13 per cent compared to the national year-on-year average rise of 5.5 per cent. Meanwhile, the smallest increase was just 2 per cent in Wales.

Since 2004, the North East has witnessed the heftiest hike - 137 per cent - while the national average was 103 per cent. The least sharp rise was in the Midlands - an increase of 88 per cent.

Graham Jones, director at SunLife, said: 'This year, as has been the case every year we have run this report, the Cost of Dying has shown significant regional variations in funeral costs. London remains the most expensive place to die, with the average funeral costing £5,529, which is 42 per cent more than the national average of £3,897.

'The regions where funeral costs are lowest are Northern Ireland (£3,277) and North West England, where the cost of a basic funeral is £3,381, 13.2 per cent lower than the national average and £2,148 less than the cost of a funeral in the capital.'

Of course, planning a funeral is a deeply traumatic and distressing experience. But I've always wondered, for loved ones who rarely went to church and never sang hymns, why do funeral services feature music that has little or no connection to their lives?

Perhaps that is changing, though. SunLife asked the over 50s what song they would choose to have played at their funeral. More than eight out of ten said they did not want a hymn, preferring instead a more contemporary song, often with a humorous angle.

Top of the list was Always look on the bright side of life from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. You remember this one - it's the final song in the film, and accompanies Jesus dying on the cross. It was controversial back in 1979 and, for some people at least, it's still controversial. But I'd be thrilled if someone I loved had the bravery to request this for their funeral.

The same goes for the other most popular songs chosen by the over 50s. How much better would Queen’s Another one bites the dust and Who wants to live forever, Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell or Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven be than a centuries old dirge which no one in the congregation knows, let alone the deceased?

As for me, I'll say this: I want Here, There and Everywhere by The Beatles at my funeral. What would you choose?

Helen Nugent is Online Money Editor of The Spectator