Regrets of the Dying

One of my favorite websites is Psych Central. They always have a wealth of information and every day I find a useful article. One of my favorite blogs they offer is “Mindfulness and Psychotherapy” by Elisha Goldstein Ph.D.

Death has been on my mind lately. Don’t worry, I’m not talking about being suicidal. There just happens to be a lot of death going on around me. Both friends and acquaintances moving on. I spent some time with one friend while he was dying and the one takeaway from our time together was the enormous amount of regret that he suffered. It was very sad and I found it impossible to move him past that. On Tuesday when I read Dr. Goldstein’s blog, I knew I had to repost it. I think there’s something in the article that everyone can relate to. I hope you find it helps you.



Top 5 Regrets of the Dying
By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

I’ve always been interested in the wisdom of our elders and often do a practice with students and clients when they’ve seemed to veer off the path of what truly matters in their lives. I ask them to project themselves forward many years from now looking back onto this very moment right now, what do they wish they would’ve done? Bronnie Ware is an Australian Nurse who spent many years working in palliative care caring for those who were dying. She eventually published a book called the The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Regrets can be seen as something that’s good if they give us insight into what we can change today for the better. Here are the Top 5. Use them as north star to help guide your actions in the days that follow toward an even more fulfilling life. Although we can veer off the path, when we notice the star, we can always come back to it.

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying:

1.I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
From the time we’re born we’re looking to our parents to teach us the rules of this world and to guide our expectations about how we should or shouldn’t act. Looking to our culture or other people to guide how we should dress, speak, act, and even what kind of profession we should be in is common. What would it look like to get in touch with what seems right to you and live an authentic life?

2.I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
As the saying goes, no one ever kicked themselves on their deathbeds for missing a day of work. Sometimes we work too much out of routine, other times from other people’s expectations and sometimes as an addictive behavior to avoid discomfort. Are there things that may be more valuable to pay attention to where we can loosen up on working so hard and pay attention to things that nourish us more?

3.I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Whether it’s at work, in a friendship or a partnership we make the snap judgment to bite our tongue rather than being assertive. Standing in an authentic life means becoming aware of and expressing our feelings. This may be a missed opportunity to let others know we love them that can create deeper connections or maybe it’s a time when someone hurts us and we stay silent out of fear. Learning how to become more aware of our emotions and express them in a skillful way can help us feel more connected, self-reliant and happy.

4.I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
There’s no question. At the crux of feeling happy and fulfilled in life is having nurturing relationships. There are so many ways to stay connected nowadays through text, chat, email, social media, the phone and of course face to face. How might you make it a priority to make relationships an integral part of your day to day life?

5.I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Bronnie Ware said that many people didn’t notice until the end of life that happiness is a choice. With awareness we can make conscious choices about what nourishes us and what depletes us. What beliefs we want to invest in and which ones we don’t. We may get hooked into states of high stress, anxiety, depression and even trauma reactions, but at some point we get to choose how we want to relate to them and this may help us ride them with more grace. Maybe it’s time to play a little more, what makes you happy?

Take a moment to look back once again at these five regrets people have had and see where you can begin integrating these more into your life starting today.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

#5 is the only one that I find questionable. I know when I’m in a depressive state that I can’t force myself to have a sunny disposition.  I guess the way I’ll look at it is that during those times that I am stable, that is when I need to live life to its fullest. They may be few and far between, and it may be hard to remember, but I’m going to do it the best I can.

6 comments on Regrets of the Dying

  1. I am tearful as I write these words. Death has been on my mind a lot lately too.
    I experienced what we can call a death simulation earlier this month. An unjustly named horror by the name of a panic attack. I wrote about it yesterday please check it out.

    And it was worth noting that in the face of dying that day; I was happy and had no regrets 🙂

  2. OMG panic attacks are terrible and it does make you feel like your dying. Fortunately, I don’t have very many of them anymore, but I use to. I’m glad you made it through them okay.

  3. Thanks for this list of regrets. It’s helpful to me to reassess occasionally if I’m doing what my soul needs to be doing and that our lives are finite (at least in this form), so we need to focus on what is really important to us while we can.

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