Here’s some scientifically tabulated advice. They’re called the top five regrets of the dying. In short, a nurse that took care of lots of people on their deathbeds asked and recorded their most common regrets. They are as follows, along with my pithy commentary:
- “I wish I had lived a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” This was the biggest regret of all. Basically, chase your OWN passions, goals, and dreams — not the ones your family, friends, and society have laid out for you. Remember, you have a choice.
- “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” According to the author of the piece, “This came from every male patient that I nursed.” In other words, males are more prone to be workaholics than women. They also identify themselves almost entirely by what they do instead of who they are. You know, living to work instead of working to live (i.e. working is the end not the means). Interestingly, almost all the males that share this view also have this flawed idea of a deferred life. After they strike it rich, they say, then they’ll volunteer, spend time with family, fulfill personal goals, etc… (once they’re body has deteriorated, by the way). Crazy but true. You can’t make this stuff up, people!
- “I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned from two rounds of professional counseling, it is this: effective communication is all about sharing your feelings. Not who is right or wrong. Or who gets what and when — although that’s certainly a part of communication. Simply expressing your true feelings will do wonders in helping you find what you want from life. It’s liberating. It’s cathartic. It’s also very hard to do. The trick is to be assertive with your feelings at all times, without fearing how your feelings will be received. Get ’em out there and you’ll be well on your way.
- “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Unless you want to die alone, take the time to develop and perpetuate meaningful friendships. Instead of waiting for others to call you, get in the habit of calling others. Ask how they are. Stay in touch. Email them. Invite them to dinner. It can be completely out of the blue. Case in point, I have uttered these words a hundred times: “I was just calling to catch up.” Put yourself in situations (church, educational classes, networking groups, book clubs, amateur athletics, etc) where you can meet new people. Strike up conversations with strangers. And invite the ones you like to dinner and see where it goes. On a personal note, this is easier for me to do cuz I’m a chatty fellow and I have to fight for social interactions on a daily basis, being that I work from home and am therefore unable to confuse water cooler talk with lasting friendships. In any case, I’d rather die among friends than among riches. If you’re like me, prioritize accordingly.
- “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” When I said if there was one thing I learned from professional counseling, I lied. I learned at least two things, among others. The second is this: YOU, and only you, are responsible for your own happiness, which is simply a state of mind. If you depend on others or your circumstances for your happiness, both will inevitably let you down, especially if the former are doing it right, which is—you guessed it—to worry about their own mental well being. If this sounds selfish, it’s not. It’s more like putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others. You know, letting your light shine, so to speak. So let go of the past. Smile at strangers. Connect with people. Decide to be happy. And by all means, embrace the above four items to realize this one. Concluded the author, “Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice.” Don’t make the same mistake they did.
This story first published on blakesnow.com on June 11, 2012 after David Cole shared the nurse’s research with me.