When Frank Sinatra sang “Regrets, I’ve had a few,” he pretty much summed up the thoughts of a lot of people who reflect upon their lives as they’re dying. A palliative care nurse who spent many years assisting people in their final days found a common thread in these regrets and created a list of the 5 most popular ones; that list that has become very popular and has been recreated in other blogs and images.
The important thing about this list is not that we should regret our life choices: we can’t undo what’s been done. To live life to its fullest, we must look ahead: regret looks nowhere but backward. Instead, learning what people most commonly regret while we still have life in front of us helps us consider changes we can make now, so we don’t face these regrets later.
Top 5 regrets of the dying
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Bronnie Ware, the palliative nurse who wrote “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying,” said this is the most common regret of all. That makes sense because it takes courage to be true to yourself and to walk alone. But now is the time to do it because at the end of life, you may regret the dreams that were never fulfilled. With life, you still have the freedom to be true to yourself and pursue your dreams.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
You’ve probably heard people who take time for themselves and their families, say “When I’m dying, I’m not going to regret that I didn’t work more.” You have one life; your spouse has one life; your kids have one life. You don’t want to work so hard and so much that you miss out on large parts of any of those.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Most of us do this to some extent. We keep our thoughts to ourselves and “go along to get along.” But how can you make a mark on the world if your thoughts and ideas never come out? Even something as simple as saying “I love you,” has changed the course of peoples’ lives. You have important things to say; so say them.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
We all get caught up in our lives. The result is that we often lose track of people we care about. When we lose track of the people in our lives, it’s often difficult to find them again. Today’s technology makes it easier, but it’s far easier to spend a few minutes on a regular basis reaching out to a friend then spending hours on the Internet trying to find them later.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Ware said some of her patients didn’t even realize happiness was a choice. Happiness doesn’t usually just happen; it requires effort. If you work less, are true to yourself, pursue the things you want, express your feelings and make the effort to reach out to friends, happiness will follow – and regrets will disappear. When Frank Sinatra sang about his regrets, he noted that he had “too few to mention.” We should all be so lucky.