We all have a certain amount of time on this earth. We don't know how long we get. It's easy to take life for granted and expect to have more than enough time to do the things we want to do.
I was reminded of the finality of life when I was at a funeral recently. Hearing several people speak about this person reminded me of what's really important.
We may get caught up in things that don't really matter but they seem so important at the time. There's no better way to put things into perspective than to sit down and have a chat with someone who is on their deathbed. Things take on a different perspective when listening to someone who is dying from a terminal illness and only has a few weeks or months of life left.
Bronnie Ware actually did this. She worked with terminally ill people for eight years and had meaningful in-depth conversations about what really mattered to them. She learned that people who are facing death had common types of regrets that came up over and over again.
Some of her dying patients asked her to promise that she would share their regrets with the living so they could learn from their mistakes. Bronnie said they were "great teachers and she was being blessed with these lessons because she wouldn't have to have her own regrets." She said she felt a strong calling to honor and share their messages in her book: The 5 Regrets of the Dying.
"Let's use death as a tool for living."
- Bronnie Ware
These are 5 regrets of the dying - the things they wished they would have done differently:
I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the #1 regret. Many of their dreams had gone unfulfilled and they had to die knowing this happened because of choices they made. We all, myself included, take our health for granted. When health fails, it may be too late to live out our dreams.
"The more we can follow our heart, the louder it speaks."
- Bronnie Ware
I wish I hadn't worked so hard. Bronnie heard this regret from EVERY male she worked with. This one is so true especially in our Western society. Being busy and working hard are like a badge of honor. Many regretted not having more time with their children and spouses. Takeaway: simplifying our lives frees us up so that we don't have to make so much money.
I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. Many regretted that they stuffed down their feelings to keep the peace, to avoid rocking the boat, or to please others. Many developed illnesses because their stuffed emotions left them feeling bitter and resentful and they carried this inside them for years. Takeaway: speaking in an open, honest, and direct way is part of a healthy relationship. If someone doesn't appreciate your assertiveness (which is 100% healthy by the way), it may be time to release that unhealthy relationship from your life.
“... to be in any sort of relationship where you do not express yourself,
simply to keep the peace, is a relationship ruled by one person
and will never be balanced or healthy.”
- Bronnie Ware
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Many of them were so caught up in their own lives that they lost touch with their friends. Many had deep regrets about not giving these friendships the time and effort they deserved. Bronnie learned that everyone misses their friends when they're dying and it all came down to love and relationships in the final weeks.
I wish that I had let myself be happier. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They were stuck in old habits, the status quo of the familiar, falling into a rut and not getting out. Many pretended to be content with their lives because they were afraid to change and to face the uncertainty of any other way of living. They longed to laugh and have silliness in their life again. In the final weeks, the last thing they are thinking about is what others think of them.
In the end, Bronnie learned that most regrets came down to having courage. The courage to choose wisely, consciously, and honestly. No regrets!
So knowing the 5 regrets of the dying, which one of these would you like to focus on so you don't have your own regrets? Please share in the comments below.
For me, it's staying in touch with friends. As a highly sensitive introvert in a helping profession, I tend to need alone time to re-energize at the end of the day. My challenge is balancing this meaningful work with staying connected with people who are important to me. I don't want to have regrets about this at the end of my life.
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Beth Matthews is a Registered Psychologist who is driven to help people feel better about themselves. She can help you if you are struggling in your life. You can learn easy-to-use strategies to help you cope with anything that comes your way.