There was a time in my career when I worked in a medical hospital with patients who were facing death. Though people develop differing attitudes when they know that their death is imminent, many express feelings of regret.
In the hope of encouraging you to consider living life in ways to avoid these, here is what a lot of people say they regret.
1. Choosing not to live their lives in ways that they really wanted, but how they were expected to live them.
These are the people who discovered their passions but did not pursue them. They had dreams but never acted on them. They let the opinions of others or culture dictate their decisions. What they chose wasn’t necessarily bad, but wasn’t as fulfilling as what might have been. Frequently their sadness at life’s end is around the pursuit of money and “things” instead of relationships and their own true preferences.
2. Working much and living little.
They worked instead of being involved in the lives of their children, whether it was their sports involvements, recitals, plays, or even homework. They didn’t spend enough time just enjoying the relationship and “playing” with their spouse.
They worked hard to create a “lifestyle” instead of making a living so they could savor life. There seems to be a movement recently to simplify in order to satisfy. It’s difficult in our “get all you can get” culture to choose to downsize lifestyle and enlarge living, but the needed perspective and painful regret appear when health is lost. Then it is too late. Some of the most painful statements start with “I wish I had/hadn’t…” At the end, newer, bigger, better, and more don’t mean much.
3. Fearing to break the silence and speak the truth.
People often express regret at not having had the courage to appropriately express their true feelings. The usual result is thinking less of themselves for keeping quiet instead of being pleased with themselves for speaking their truth and running the risk of “upsetting someone else, hurting their feelings, avoiding conflict” or whatever excuse they used to support their fearful silence.
Over time, bottling negative feelings creates resentment and bitterness toward others AND toward the one whose voice is silent by choice. Bottling the positive feelings leads to sadness from missed opportunities and relationships not beginning or being nourished.
Speaking your truth with courage can add to the depth of a healthy relationship or the end of an unhealthy one. That’s seems like a win-win to me.
4. Neglecting to maintain and to nurture valued friendships of old.
The usual reason given is simply choosing to be busy with things that are now seen (with the benefit of hindsight and impending death) as far less important than those wonderful, rewarding, and rare relationships.
Realizing that loving relationships are the most valuable commodity human beings can possess comes too late when you only have weeks or days to live. If nurturing them over time and benefiting from them for years has been missed, they will also be missed as special support during those last days.
They will be missed, not because of preoccupation, but because of the absence of intending to pay attention to those we truly value.
5. Failing to CHOOSE to be happy.
Huh? Yes, happiness is a choice. We can consciously choose to focus on being positive, using language “in our head” that gets us out of the rut of familiarity, frees us from unhealthy or unpleasurable behavioral patterns, overcomes our fear of change, relieves us of the weight of pretending to be satisfied with our lives, allows us to laugh more and be serious less, and encourages more smiles than looks of fatigue, boredom, and sadness. We can do this consciously and intentionally.
If you don’t know what it would take for you to be successful at achieving this goal, give it some serious thought, talk about it with someone you love, go to a comedy club, rent a funny movie, or call a therapist.
Like Nike said, “Just do it!”, before it’s too late.