Life Choices and the Five Regrets of the Dying

A few years ago an article went viral: Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. 

The piece was written by Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse who had the unique position of being able to sit and listen to the stories, reflections and regrets of people at the end of their lives. 

In her 26 years experience, she boiled down the top 5 most common regrets of the dying to be:

  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. 

When I re-read this list I'm struck by how intuitive all 5 points are. My instinct is: "yes, if I pass with any of these feelings I too would feel them to be major regrets of my life". 

What's so strange about life and the pressures of our society is that as much as we understand the value of our life without these regrets, we so seldomly make the changes in our life to avoid them.

In the past few weeks I've written of two inspiring young people (Jess Ainscough and Paul Kalinithi) who both passed away in the prime of their lives.

Both Jess and Paul were in their 30's. Each led a full, inspired and courageous life in their short amount of years. Each touched thousands - hundreds of thousands - along the way. 

I didn't know either of them personally so cannot say definitely whether they shared any of these regrets. My hunch would be no. I found them and was inspired by them because they so clearly lived life on their terms.

What I also appreciate now more than ever is that at the core of their teachings was that we have choices in life. Choices that either lead us to a life without regrets, or a life with regrets. 

 If we make choices to do the opposite of the 5 Regrets of the Dying we get:

  1. I have the courage to live a life true to myself, irrespective of what others expect of me. 
  2. Balance defines my relationship with work. 
  3. I have the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I stay in touch with my friends.
  5. I allow myself to be happy.

When I read that I see a recipe for a full and meaningful life - one free of regrets.