What Do People Regret The Most On Their Deathbeds?

Bronnie Ware was a nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last weeks of their lives, and recorded her experiences in a blog. She wrote an excellent post about the most common regrets of the dying, which became so popular she expanded it into an entire book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing about how we can live better lives by addressing these common regrets. (The blog post has been reprinted in various places, I found it in an AARP magazine.)

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
It seems natural that unfulfilled dreams would be the greatest regret. I still have plenty of things on my life To Do list. The key aspect of this regret is that it’s about failing to pursue their dreams, not the fact that they didn’t achieve them. Remember, the Declaration of Independence says we have the right to the pursuit of happiness, not actual happiness. Prioritize your actions in life.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
Ware says it best herself:

All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
My interpretation of this one is that you should not be afraid to cut out the negative influences on your life, and also be sure to nurture the positive influences. Life’s too short to deal with people that bring you down. Meanwhile, we should let the awesome people know how much we appreciate them.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
If I died today, this would be a major regret. Every time I move, I leave behind great friends that I lose touch with.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Happiness is a choice. I remember reading this concept in the bestseller Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I prefer the phrase that life is a choice. Conscious living is pretty much the common base of any life improvement exercise, which includes all personal finance blogs.

Comments

  1. I can totally understand the one about not working so hard. I was recently in a job where I felt like I was spinning my wheels – getting absolutely nowhere! Since then, I’ve transitioned into working my dream job – working online writing personal finance articles. I can tell you first hand that opportunities are opening up all over the place! I know that this wasn’t the best decision for my income in the short them, but for the long term and my health, it was the best career decision I could have made. Thanks for the excellent thoughts!

  2. How about not having seen the Cubs win the World Series?

  3. All 5 regrets can be boiled down to that last one: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” It implies that happiness is found within; that one must remove the barriers to accepting it.

  4. I’m living out the mistakes of 1, 2 and 5. Worst is when you see it but can’t see a way out…

    But on paper we’re the damn american success story.

  5. I’ve often heard that people most regret not what they did in life, but what they didn’t do in life. This makes sense to me. I suppose a few people have made some truly spectacular blunders that they regret for the rest of their life. But for most of us, our regrets are probably more defined by what we didn’t even try to accomplish.

    That is a sobering thought because it means that we may be churning through our lives right now, happy and relatively pain free, and yet in the end, we may deeply regret this path, not for what we did, but for what we didn’t do.

  6. I was stuck in the same treadmill as all these people for the first 38 years of my life. Thankfully I woke up and realized that happiness can’t be bought, friends and family are a blessing, work isn’t everything and if I don’t pursue my dreams now I may be too old to pursue them later in life.

  7. I have to say if this is what people are saying on the death bed then I am doing very well. Everything I do is to pursue happiness and my job pay well but is pretty easy.

  8. One should be careful not to put too much weight into these comments. They are made by a weakened person dying who can’t fully comprehend what his other choices would have led to.

    Maybe if he worked less he’d be spending his dying days in poverty and poor care. Keeping in touch with old friends requires sacrifices in other ways… in some ways might force you to live in the past which is not necessarily healthy for a nondying person. The last one about letting yourself be happier is hogwash… you can’t control how happy you are.

    This dying person is living in the present, and what they need most then is memories of a positive life to reflect on. Depending on their personality they may feel the grass is greener on the other side, but since they don’t have to do anything to make these changes, it’s easy to wish for a prior change.

  9. Thanks for posting this. Excellent!

  10. My husband faced his mortality a couple of years ago when he faced a brain tumor. What he took away from the experience is it has nothing to do with the stuff, the places, the travel, the experiences. The only think that really matters is the *people* in your life.

    & that is the theme here. #2 – when you work too much you neglect your loved ones. #3 & #4 are about relationships.

    The catch 22 is you really have no idea what you are going to regret until you face your own mortality (when you face a real possibility of losing it very suddenly). I naively asked my husband if we should cash out some retirement and travel to some place we had never made it too, just in case. He basically said, “Are you crazy? I want to spend every last minute I have here, with my family and loved ones. I don’t have to travel anywhere to enjoy that time with them.” & I think that pretty much says it all.

  11. @David
    I have to agree with you. Happiness is elusive and it mostly based on attitude. Friends? I’ve kept in touch with some friends and tried with others. The ones that want to stay friends will, the others just disappear overtime. I went to a 30 year high school reunion which, after pleasantries, you find you really don’t know anybody. You all promise to get together again but it never happens. When I’m at the end, I hope I just smile and remember the good times.

Speak Your Mind

*