Bronnie Ware worked as an end of life caregiver and after her many years of service she wrote a book about the top five regrets she heard on her patients’ deathbed. While there are limitations to the variability of her sample group, the messages provide insight to the most common regrets. While many of these regrets speak to the core philosophy of life, there are some simple strategies that can help you avoid these pitfalls.
Regret #1: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Others will always try to influence you to fit the opinion they have in their head. Their opinion is not your dream! As Robert Greene says in Mastery, beware of the ‘counter-forces’ which can include parents, teachers, or partners, that may derail you away from your highest calling. Even if they mean you well, as the aphorism states, the road to suffering is paved with good intentions.
Follow your own guidestar at all cost. If you don’t know what your guidestar is, it is simply because your sky is too cloudy. Still the winds of the mind and the stars will become clear.
Regret #2: I wish I didn’t work so hard
Bronnie explains that this sentiment came from every single male patient that she cared for. Largely middle class retirees, they complained of the ‘treadmill’ nature of their jobs. The truth that escapes so many of us is that there is no final destination other than death – everything is a journey. Breath goes in, breath goes out, and our happiness is determined by whether we enjoyed or suffered during that process.
Humans like to work. We thrive in it. The problem isn’t the work, it is what we are working for. When we are working in alignment with our mission and our vocation (our purpose and unique expression) work is an enjoyable part of life. When our mission includes our own happiness, as all good missions should, then we will naturally strike the balance between when to sacrifice and when to sip the nectar of life. Or chug it 🙂
Regret #3: I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
Very early on, the beliefs of the world gets imprinted upon us. We let fears, concerns about opinion, and misplaced Spartan ethos bottle up our truest expression. We feel trapped inside our own minds, denying ourselves permission to release our truth.
What are you afraid of? Let out your heart-song. Whatever that is, let it rip! I’ve had a consistent vision of a scream emerging from my chest that is so pure for one instant the world stops what it’s doing to take notice. What is your scream?
Forget about the opinions of others. If people are offended by anything you do, remember the first sacred agreement from Don Miguel Ruiz – “Don’t take it personally.” That is their emotional story, not yours.
Regret #4: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
Human beings are social creatures. Our connections bring the dance to our life, and yet we find ourselves with too little time to enjoy these moments. But I think another problem is that at a certain point we stop making really great new friends. In the absence of rituals like school and sports, we don’t take the time to forge deeper connections with people. Whether it is having an all night bender in Vegas, or a 10-day journey in Peru, extreme experiences have the potential to form the deepest bonds. Go for it, leave your important adult self behind and have an adventure with people you love.
Regret #5: I wish I had let myself be happier
The most interesting thing about this sentiment is the implication of choice being the determining factor for happiness. They did not say “I wish I was happier,” leaving happiness as a capricious blessing from Fortune herself. Wisdom in their age led them to say “I wish I had LET myself be happier.” More often than not, happiness IS a choice.
Sometimes that choice is a hard one to make, as we can literally become addicted to our own suffering. Depression, anger, anxiety all release neurochemicals that are highly addicting. But so does joy, lust, and laughter! To choose to be happy, we have to manage our inner addict. Win small battles, like watching an inspirational movie when you are depressed, or going floating when you have anxiety. Take ownership of your emotions, grab the controls of your human avatar, and live a life that leaves no regrets.
Cover Art by Alex Grey http://alexgrey.com/