What do you think will be your biggest regret when you look back at your life?
Here’s what you probably won’t catch yourself thinking on your deathbed:
• I didn’t spend enough time on Facebook
• Darn, I wish I took fewer risks
• I’m relieved I put off travelling until my retirement
• Thank God I always ignored my intuition
• Wait a second, why didn’t I buy more stuff?
• I’m so glad I hung on to all these grudges
• I’d rather be alone, if you don’t mind
Speaking of death makes many people uncomfortable, but it’s a great way to put things in perspective. Think of how much more forgiving, daring and adventure-filled our days would be if we focused on how short life was, instead of worrying about work deadlines or obsessing about other people’s off-hand remarks.
An Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware, who worked for years in palliative care, actually wrote down a list of the top 5 regrets people had at the end of their lives. Hint: going bungee-jumping was not one of them.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This, actually, was the most common regret of all. When people looked back on their life, they realized how many dreams had gone unfulfilled. It’s easy to get caught in day-to-day issues and start living your live on “default”, not on purpose. If you don’t make a conscious effort to follow your dreams and make your own choices, other people or circumstances will make these choices for you and you won’t like it.
Don’t wait to start living out loud. Honor your dreams and find time for things that truly matter. As Bronnie Ware wrote in her book “Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
We all suspect that the resolution to “work more” won’t make it on our “bucket list”, yet we still struggle to find a balance between work and joie de vivre. If you consider yourself a workaholic or an overachiever, consider this – “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard” was one of the most frequent regrets among men.
They felt that they haven’t spent enough time with their children, haven’t taken time to enjoy life, to travel. Don’t make the same mistake. Work hard, but make sure it doesn’t rob you of your family time, hobbies and little pleasures of life that make it more meaningful.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
This was a common regret not only for expressing positive feelings, like “I wish I had said to my family that I loved them”, but for negative feeling as well. Many people carried such damaging emotions as bitterness, guilt and resentment that actually contributed to their health problems. Old grudges and unresolved issues are too poisonous to be dragged through life. On the other hand, love, gratitude and joy are too precious not to be shared with others.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
True friendship is a rare gift. Yes, it takes an effort on both parts to stay in touch and not let it slip by over the years, but it’s definitely worth it. Here are a few ways on how not to lose life-long friends and to gain new ones.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common regret. Too bad, many people don’t realize that happiness is a choice until almost the end. As Bronnie writes, people often “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 themselves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
The one question we all should be asking ourselves is “What stops me from being happy today?” After a long list of excuses, we may realize that these are… well, just excuses.
Happiness is a choice. We make this choice every minute.
So here’s what I want you to do: Give yourself permission to break free from the notion that you should deserve happiness. Give yourself permission to live on your terms, and being okay with having nothing to prove. Permission to make mistakes and learn from them. Permission to love generously, laugh until you get the hiccups and eat ice cream right out of the carton!
If you live like that, you’ll have nothing to regret.