Regret should be your biggest motivation when it comes to doing the things that you love and are most important to you. It’s probably the one thing that we all agree on and tell each other, and ourselves, all the time – “to not live life with regrets”. Yet, in reality, most of us do exactly that on a daily basis. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, we live in a state of constant regret. We regret doing things. We regret not doing things. We regret the way we did or didn’t do something.
When I first started reading about personal development and ways to improve my mindset back in 2011 one of the first blogs that hit a nerve for me was published on Joel Brown‘s Addicted2Success entitled ‘The Top 5 Regrets In Life By Those About To Die‘, which really forced me to re-assess my own life and the things that I didn’t want to regret when my time comes. That article was based on a book written by a palliative care worker named Bronnie Ware called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying who had worked with a countless number of patients who were living out their last days. When Bronnie talked to the patients about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again.
I’ve taken inspiration from that original article, and have added some of my own comments to each one too.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It’s so important to try and honour as many of your dreams along the way that you can. Of course there will be obstacles and barriers along the way in life, but that’s no excuse for not trying to achieve what you want.
From the moment that you lose your health, it is often too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard
This came from every male patient that Bronnie nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship because of working to provide for the children and partner they didn’t spend enough time with.
Isn’t it funny how we spend more time every day away from our homes, our children and our partners in order to work and earn enough money to keep the house we hardly spend any time living in?
Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men Bronnie nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a 9-5.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end, it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationships from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually, though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks: love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier
This is a surprisingly common one.
Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice.
They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Now is the time to make a list of the things in your life you’re grateful for. Do it daily as part of your journaling. It will help you to realise the things that you don’t want to, one day, regret on your deathbed.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.