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The Sweet Pursuit

Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive

How to Live without Regrets

No Regrets artIf you died today, what would be your paramount regret? Would you lament the fact that you never got the front porch painted; that you didn’t try that hot new restaurant; that there was one more project at work you wanted to wrap up?

Palliative caretaker Bronnie Ware spent years attending to hospice patients during the final weeks of their lives. In those achingly heavy days, she heard first-hand their regrets over missed opportunities, botched relationships, and squandered joys. Realizing what these end-of-life wishes could teach the rest of us, Ware collected the top five regrets of the dying for her blog Inspiration and Chai and republished them online with the AARP. The affecting list follows: 

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

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.  

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.  

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.  

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.  

It’s easy to inch dangerously close to these common regrets in our own lives. Workaholic family members should know that every one of Ware’s male patients regretted putting their job above their children and partners. Skip the late-night conference call! Too-busy young parents should beware of letting golden friendships grow cold. (“Everyone misses their friends when they are dying,” Ware says.) Have a drink with an old pal! And all of us should remember the most common regret: not being true to oneself. Unleash all those beautiful quirks and aspirations!

The U.S. edition of Ware’s book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing will be released this month. Gratefully, she hints it has a happy ending, noting that each of the people she cared for came to terms with their regrets and even made major life changes to remedy them.

“People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality,” she writes. “I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal.” It’s not too soon for the rest of us to make changes, either—good health or not. Don’t wait.

Source: AARP 

Image by April Johnson, licensed under Creative Commons. 

Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.


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jfloyd waggaman
4/4/2012 3:34:12 PM

In regards to some, if not many, cases Ms Aldridge could have also added:: or I wish I didn’t work harder along with:: 2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. Read more: http://www.utne.com/The-Sweet-Pursuit/How-to-Live-without-Regrets.aspx#ixzz1r5O6nNhM

robert johnson
3/21/2012 2:47:23 PM

Thought provoking article - thanks! I was my Mom's full time caregiver in the last few years of her life. Thankfully we had Hospice. I can't thank them enough for all of their around the clock wonderful care! Another thing that helped me was Deism. As a former Christian who became a Deist after reading Thomas Paine's book on God and religion, The Age of Reason, the realization that whatever happens to us after our body dies, whether there is something or nothing, is all part of our Designer's design and it can't get better than that. Progress! Bob Johnson www.deism.com

david kimball
3/21/2012 1:45:06 PM

It's interesting to note that people tend to regret things they didn't do much more than things that they did do. This is true from other studies also.

darnell thomas
3/20/2012 2:21:43 PM

What a great article!