Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

Bronnie Ware
Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

One of the books I read over the Christmas break was The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying by Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware. Through spending the last 3-12 weeks with thousands of dying people, she observed 5 common regrets:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

I found it fascinating because so much of my journey and research over the last 7 years has been about discovering what daily actions we can take to enhance our wellbeing and mood. It seems that the clarity from impending death provides to the essence of a fulfilling life has been confirmed by science.

These are some practical steps we can take to address workplace stress and life regrets right now:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

An essential part of my recovery was discovering my whYcode™ – my purpose, my passions, and my positive strengths. I think one of the unfortunate aspects of modern life is that we constantly suffer from information overload, but don’t make enough time to learn about our most important subject – who is the real me? Discovering and articulating our passion and purpose takes time, but we can make a start by finding out our top 5 Positive Psychology VIA strengths for free in 30 minutes.

According to Gallup research, those that have the opportunities to use their strengths are 6 times more like to be engaged in their jobs and 3 times more likely to report enjoying an excellent quality of life. Change management isn’t easy, but understanding your strengths is an important starting point.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

Men in particular, regretted not spending more time with their children in their earlier years. A common myth is that the more hours we work, the more productive we are. Yet Tony Schwartz shows conclusively, in his research for the book The Power of Full Engagement , that the real key to high productivity is combining hard work with renewal. Taking note of the Pareto principle, ask yourself – what are the critical 20% of my activities that produce 80% of my results?

In 2013, resolve to say no to the trivial many, and yes to the vital few.

3. I wish I’d  had the courage to express my feelings.

Many of us suppress their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, we settle for a mediocre existence and never become who we were truly capable of becoming. Some of us develop illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment carried as a result.

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 relationship from your life. Either way, we win. Tap into your whYcode™ and decide to be more authentic in your communication in 2013. It was Gandhi who said that “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress”.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

The dying lamented that work commitments and life in general often got in the way of maintaining close friendships.  Tom Rath, the author of Wellbeing from Gallup, found that people who have 3-4 close friendships are healthier, have higher wellbeing, and are more engaged in their jobs. Take time once a week to decide when you are going to make contact with good friends and schedule it in your diary. If you don’t schedule it – even tentatively – chances are it won’t happen.

5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

The dying wished they had relaxed more, loved more, and been sillier. In our frenzied western lifestyle we have lost the ability to live in the present. The vast majority of our worries and stress come from being fearful of something in our future or regretful of past mistakes. Take time to immerse yourself in nature. Pursue a hobby. Learn how to meditate. Read Eckhardt Tolle’s book The Power of Now.

Mark Twain said:

“Twenty years from now you will have more regrets about what you didn’t do, than what you did do”.

It is up to us all to choose how we spend each day.

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