Here are the biggest regrets of the dying and how to avoid them so you can live a happy and fulfilling life.
Dying. Fun topic, right? Well if you’re reading this, you’re probably not dead. Better yet, you’re probably interested in living a joyful and meaningful life. So with those two things in mind, let’s talk about the top regrets of the dying and how you can try and avoid them.
Earlier this month I was encouraging you to check in on your resolutions and make mid-year goals to finish the year strong. Now I want to go a step, or more like 50 steps further, to make sure you live well right until your final days.
Sometimes I don’t think we’re able to truly see our actions and behavior until something really big or bad happens. That’s why I’m a fan of making resolutions and goals. It holds you accountable and also allows you to track your progress in real time – not months or years after the fact when something you disliked happened.
The topic of deathbed regrets is an interesting one. Bronnie Ware wrote an entire book on her time caring for dying patients. She found five common themes that came up in people’s final hours.
Biggest Regrets of the Dying
Instead of waiting until the very end, let’s look at people’s biggest regrets on their deathbed. These are top five regrets of the dying that Bronnie Ware experienced, and some of my thoughts on how to avoid them.
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This reminds me of the world of “shoulds.” I should take this job. I should marry this person. I should follow this well-worn path that everyone has walked before me.
I played the should game for most of my life, until I got a wake-up call to stop.
Coming from a family of over-achievers, there were many shoulds to follow on the road to accomplishment. Everyone in my family has a few degrees, has boldly climbed the corporate ladder, got married, and had kids.
I got the degrees and hurled myself up the corporate ladder without regard for my health or passions. It wasn’t until my mom passed away that I realized I wasn’t living my life.
That life is short moment smacks you hard in the face when someone you love dies. I wondered what the long hours were all for, so I quit my job to rediscover my life.
I moved to Paris and eventually launched a whole new career that includes the words you’re reading right now.
I’ve never been happier, and have never looked back.
What are the shoulds that you’re holding onto? Whose life are you living? What untapped dreams are you holding onto? What passions light you up? Find a way to pursue them now. It’s never too late to start something.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
You know what regret you don’t hear on people’s deathbed? If only I had put in even more hours in the office.
People spend the majority of their life working. They get caught in the “treadmill of a work existence,” said Bronnie.
I was running fast on that work treadmill, ignoring health issues, and gunning for the next rung. I missed out on some important times, relationships, and experiences.
Creating boundaries around work and playtime can have a huge impact on your life. If you don’t set up boundaries, the border will continue to move until there’s no distinction between your personal and professional life.
Putting the mobile device away is a great start. Make dedicated time to spend with your partner, kids, and friends. Creating work-free, device free-time to you don’t miss a moment of what’s truly important.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
"Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."
While it’s a nice sentiment to want to get along with everyone (hello fellow people pleasers!), it’s not realistic. If you’re running around making everyone else happy while not being true to yourself, you’ll never be happy, and neither will those in your life.
Tied to this is the regret of not sharing your true feelings with a new or existing partner. I think it’s better to get hurt while expressing yourself than regret never having said anything at all.
Hiding your authentic self doesn’t do you or your loved ones any favors. Expressing yourself will allow you to grow as a person, and it will also give inspiration to those around you to do the same.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
You know the busy thing from #2 above, that also impacts your friendships. Spending all of your time in the office or watching mindless TV takes you away from true connection with others.
There’s always that, oh, I’ll call them tomorrow, or more like, I’ll text them next week. Reaching out and actually having a live conversation with a friend is so much more meaningful than checking social media.
If time is short, a heartfelt personal email can be a nice way to touch base.
I have great friends from college and from my time living abroad who span multiple countries and time zones. Talking isn’t always the easiest, but we’ll often share a picture of something that reminds us of our time together. Or we’ll relay a happy victory or disappointing defeat. Even though we're thousands of miles apart, the support is always felt.
The communication doesn’t have to take long to make a big impact.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize 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 deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."
I think this is so important. Happiness is a choice and if we choose to be happy, not only will we be happier, but we’ll also attract more happiness in our life. That’s the law of attraction at work.
I know that I can take my life pretty darn seriously at times, but as soon as I connect with friends or go for a walk in nature, I’m able to zoom out and see the bigger picture. And that picture is always much more inspiring than the minutiae I get fixated on.
This plays into a recent addition to my goal list, and that’s to go out and have more fun. We go through this thing once. We don’t know when our time is up, but we can control how we live each and every day. I don’t know about you, but I want to leave this world living full out with a ridiculous ear to ear grin on my face.
I choose to be true to myself, balance my work, express myself, connect with my friends, and be happy.