The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Photo by Olga Kononenko / Unsplash

Genre: Memoir

Author: Bronnie Ware

Someone recently asked me how I choose which books to read. Honestly, I do not have a system. I simply keep my eyes and ears open. If I come across something interesting, I pick it up and read it. This one I heard about in a podcast. The host mentioned it, and the topic piqued my interest, so I decided it was going to be my next read.

In the past couple of years, a lot of young people that I know have died. With their deaths, I have come to realize that very fortunate people have the privilege of living up to the end of their life. The end is uncertain. You could very well live up to the end of your life, or you could die any moment now. That’s scary to think about, but that’s the truth of life. So, whenever I think of life these days, I also think about my death. I am not trying to sound morbid here, but I also don’t want to deny the reality of life. I often ask myself, “If I were to die tomorrow, how would I want my life to look like?”

Bronnie Ware, a palliative caregiver, spent her time with dying people who were often in their very last months, weeks, or days of their lives. She was the one who spent the most time with these people than anyone else at the end of their life. And she found a recurring theme of regrets expressed by them. So, this book as the name suggests, is about the top five regrets expressed by the dying individuals. I am going to go over those regrets below. Hopefully, it will give some insights to you all to reflect on your own life and start making necessary changes, if applicable.

I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

 I am not surprised that this was the number one regret of most of the dying individuals. There is so much pressure on us from everyone around us: our parents, our families, our friends, our neighbors, our boss, and literally everyone. You have to live a certain way. You have to achieve certain milestones by so and so age. Do this, do that. It is easier to fall under the pressure of these people around us and live our lives according to their expectations. Pressure can come in various forms – explicit words, subtle cues, or simply observing others around us following the same path and feeling left behind. If you do not look at your life from your own lens but through someone else’s, it’s easy to get swayed by the expectations of others. So, I keep reminding myself, I am the architect of my own life. If I do not stick to my values, I will lose myself to the expectations of others. And I most certainly DO NOT want to look back on my life and discover that I did not learn my lesson early on!

I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

I often see people around me glamorizing their work and taking pride in identifying themselves as workaholics. While I strongly believe in maintaining a strong work ethic and giving your best to your job, I do not advocate making work your entire identity. This is especially important for young professionals who are just starting out. Set your boundaries early on and keep work separate from your personal life as much as you can. I have witnessed people who have questioned their identity after losing their title/position, and I have learned that that’s not the path I want for myself. Work is just a slice of the pie, but not the whole pie. Make time for things that are important to you. Spend time with yourself, your family, and friends. We don’t want to add ourselves to the number of people who have already said, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Our feelings need an outlet. Whether it’s love, appreciation, anger, or grief, bottling up these feelings isn’t healthy. Expressions give freedom. Many dying individuals regret not expressing their love or appreciation to their loved ones. I particularly recall a story shared by the author about a patient who had never directly told his son that he loved him. When the dying father finally expressed his love and appreciation, it facilitated healing and released pent-up emotions. Whether the feelings are positive or negative, they need to be expressed.

Let your loved ones know that you see them, appreciate them, and love them. And for the negative emotions, find healthy ways of processing and managing them. This could involve journaling, exercising, seeking therapy, or creatively expressing them through music or art- whatever works best for you!

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Sometimes I feel like a part of growing up is also growing apart. As we move through life, we slowly leave behind our friends, maybe because of work, family, kids, or just life in general. In recent days, I’ve come to realize the importance of being intentional about nurturing existing friendships and forming new ones as we grow older. With the constant changes and demands of life, it is crucial to stay connected with friends, otherwise, years may pass by without saying a simple hello. Bronnie writes about the loneliness experienced by dying individuals and their regrets about losing touch with friends. We humans need to be surrounded by people who accept and understand us, and often, these are our friends. I am reminded that I need to be proactive about reaching out to my friends and checking on them, and I remind you of the same.

I wish I had let myself be happier.

It sounds like a cliché to say, “Happiness is a choice”, but the stories shared by Bronnie emphasize the importance of allowing oneself to experience happiness. Victor Frankl wrote something along the lines that happiness is not something you pursue, but it should ensue, meaning happiness is within you, and you should make a conscious choice to embrace it. Often, we set conditions for our happiness, telling ourselves we'll be happy once we achieve a certain goal, earn a specific amount of money, or go on a luxurious vacation. While it's wonderful to have aspirations and resources, if we continually place limits on our happiness, we'll never fully experience life's joys. Let’s not self-sabotage in creative ways. By practicing gratitude, we can recognize the abundance in our lives and open ourselves to experiencing happiness more fully.

I was not surprised by any of these five regrets, but it was a good reminder for me to reflect on and assess my way of living. I hope you find this summary helpful. Did anything surprise you in particular, or did anything resonate with you deeply? Don’t forget to share your thoughts with me and The Growth Mindset Community!

I will see you all in the next blog post!

Choose happiness and engineer your regret-free life starting NOW!

Take care 😊