You only pass by here once: don't live a life you will regret.
From the age of five, we go to school, but does anyone ever teach us about life and how to live it? Or more importantly, about how to live a life we won't regret.
The regrets expressed by those who are dying, provides a startling insight into what matters most in this life. When one is dying, there is a heightened sense and priority of what truly matters. The physical details of life fall away as one prepares for leaving this life and body. Meaning becomes centred around love and relationships.
Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative nurse found a common theme emerging in the patients she nursed in the final weeks of their lives. Bronnie documented the most common regrets of those who are dying in her blog 'Inspiration and Chai'
and in a book called The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, based on the original article of the same name.
Many people have been changed by the revelations in this book, which highlights relationships, friends, following one's dreams and being true to oneself as the most important things in life. In essence, love, truth and being oneself to the highest capacity seem to be what stands out. No mention of trips to Paris, ski-lessons, work promotions or a harbourside mansion.
Those who want to live a life that is more meaningful and fulfilling, take heed. The wisdom and clarity about life gained by those who are close to the grave offers important insights for the living.
According to Bronnie these are the top 5 most common 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.
Of all regrets expressed by the dying, Bronnie found this to be the most common. When looking back over their lives, the realisation that many if not most dreams had never been honoured, was a key source of regret. Combined with this was the realisation that this was due to the choices in life they had made. With loss of health there was no further opportunity to fulfil these dreams.
To avoid regretting this, honour at least some of your dreams as you pass through this life. Avoid living life according to social expectations and norms.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
According to Bronnie, every single male patient expressed regret over spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of work. Men felt they had missed out on spending time with their partners and children. Some women also spoke of this regret. As a massage therapist, I can personally back this up. The most stressed out people I've ever had to work on, worked very long hours and were financially successful, yet voiced the complaint, usually in a bewildered tone, that despite the fact they had everything, weren't happy.
To avoid this regret, be aware of your choices. Try to simplify your lifestyle to create more space in your life for your loved ones and other activities. This often requires a shift in values to realise that ultimately having money does not contribute to happiness as much as you think it does. It's all too easy to fall prey to the daily grind. Step off and re-evaluate your life. Don't make work your biggest priority in life.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
The significance of this was that in suppressing feelings to fit in with others, people felt they had cheated themselves of becoming who they truly were. Instead they felt they had settled for a mediocre existence and even developed illness due to underlying resentment.
To avoid this regret, realise that in speaking honestly you will either raise your relationships with others to higher and healthier standards or be released from something that is artificial or unhealthy anyway. Ultimately, you will feel the satisfaction of being true to yourself and real with others. Honesty in relationships generally leads to greater intimacy.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
In their final moments on earth, the dying tended to realise the benefits of friends. Bronnie found many regrets about people having let special friendships slip away or not giving them the time they deserved. The busyness of life was cited as the most common reason.
To avoid this regret try to avoid becoming so caught up in your own life that you neglect the value of friendship. Shift your values to think of friendship as a golden asset which needs nurturing. Make a place for it in your life. Realise the wonder that is a human being who cares for you.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
At the end of life there is often a tragic realisation that happiness is a choice or a set of choices one makes. Long-held habits and established patterns combined with fear, contributed to many staying within a comfort zone of familiarity, which prevented change and the chance to be happier.
To avoid this regret, realise now, before it is too late, that life is a choice. It is not something that happens to you, but a series of daily choices that lead in their entirely to your life. Evaluate your life and make choices that reflect honesty, wisdom and your true passions.
On one's deathbed, what others think of us doesn't matter. Try to live like that now and you are more likely to live a life that you won't regret.
A good suggestion is to sit down with a piece of paper or your laptop open. Write down a list of things you might regret if you were to die right now. Think about what is most important to you. What are your true inner passions and dreams?
Be forewarned that in living a life one won't regret may require standing out in the crowd and following a path less travelled. Ultimately, there will be inner peace and closer relationships.
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying is published by Hay House Australia and can be purchased for RRP $17.95.
To see Bronnie's article and read more of her blogs, click here on her blog Inspiration and Chai
Meditation and reflection can help you make wise life choices.