“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years“. (Abraham Lincoln)
When I was a psychology student, I worked part-time in a palliative care home. It shaped my personality and how I approach things as a psychologist and as a man. People talked to me a lot about their regrets in life (similarly, Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse, recorded the most common regrets of older people before they die, and published a book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing”).
I remember when I talked to my grandmother about the “speed of life” (“How fast did your life go by”). She told me that the first 50 years went by really fast. The following 30 years even faster (she raised kids, took care of the family and her home, and this was her life). She passed away a few years ago, but I like to think about the lesson I learned – you may think that you so much time left, but the harsh truth is, life is unpredictable, and it goes by in the blink of an eye.
I would like to share the most common regrets of dying people with you; YOU are still alive, and YOU are still capable to change things in YOUR life, no matter how old YOU are.
Here are the top regrets:
To have the courage to live a life true to yourself, and not a life others expected of you.
Caring too much about what other people think? This was one of the most common regrets, according to Bronnie Ware (see above-mentioned book). Many old people realize that they once had dreams, but they were unable to fulfill those dreams. They lived a life planned by other people, shaped by their parents, their spouses, their friends or neighbors – but some of them did not live the life they wanted to have.
To avoid this regret, you may consider starting a diary. Reflect on your dreams – what are they? What do you REALLY want in life? You have got one precious life, what are YOU going to do with it? Also, who or what is holding you back, and how?
I worked too much.
Yes, I am guilty as charged. I found myself working too much as well, and it affected my physical and mental health. Thankfully, I found a way out of it. But, for example, many male seniors missed their children’s youth, important life events, or their partner’s companionship, simply because they worked too hard. It is probably very rare that someone – once they get to old age – says they wished they had worked much more, or spent so much more time in the office.
To avoid having this regret later on, make it a habit to find some time during the week (and especially on the weekends) to spend it with your family and friends. Schedule it! You should also make it a habit to meet important friends at least once a week, and if it is just for a coffee somewhere (see the next regret).
Stay in touch with old friends.
Everyone misses friends when they are dying. Many of the older people in above-mentioned book deeply regret that they didn’t spend time with friends, to let friendships slip by over the years. It is easy to forget friends over work and time you want to spend with the family, but try to meet friends at least once a week. Or try to at least reach out to them by sending a simple text message.
To have the courage to express the feelings, and standing up for yourself more.
Many people suppress their feelings, just to keep peace with others, instead of standing up for themselves. Moreover, some older people regret not telling someone how they truly felt. Even if the “right one” does not exist, telling someone how you really feel will save you from regrets such as “What if…”.
Sure, it feels uncomfortable to provide feedback to other people, and most of us do not like conflicts. Still, is it really worth to suppress your own feelings just to keep peace with everyone? Be nice, but not at the expense of your own happiness.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Bronnie Ware states that this is a surprising regret. Many old people realize that happiness can be a choice. More importantly, it is a choice that you make at every point in your life, even right now, reading this. Connected to this, another regret is that people realized they did not live “in the moment” enough. Many are dwelling on past experiences, or concerned about the future, but they are not really “present”.
About the author: Mario Lehenbauer-Baum is a licensed psychologist, located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In his private practice, he focuses primarily on anxieties/phobias, adult ADHD, issues with relationships and sexuality, and general men’s issues. He offers Telehealth services as well. This blog is intended for entertainment and information purposes; however, Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum is not responsible for any actions you may or may not take based on information from this blog. This blog does not replace therapy or counseling, and it does not replace any professional advice from health care providers.