Two or three years ago I stumbled across an article that changed my life. Maybe you’ve seen it or read the book; it’s called The Top Five Regrets of The Dying, by Bonnie Ware.
Bonnie was a caregiver for many years, who looked after terminally ill patients. She spent a lot of one-on-one time with dying people and helped them deal with emotions, reflections, and making peace before passing away.
Specifically, these dying people were asked about regrets and things they would do differently if they were given a second chance at life. Bonnie recorded the five most common answers she heard from everyone. They were…
- “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
- “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
- “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
- “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
- “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
When I first read these top five regrets I thought, “I wonder if I’ll be saying the same things when I’m on my deathbed? … Maybe if I take this life advice and start to implement changes in the way I live NOW, I could avoid some of these regrets later?” 🤔
Ever since then, I started thinking and doing things differently with the hopes of living the *least* regrettable life possible. Here’s some specific stuff I’m doing and actions I’m taking…
My First and Biggest Takeaway: No One Had Money Regrets
Did you notice that none of the top regrets have anything to do with “more money” or “more stuff”?
That was my first big takeaway: Stop prioritizing money and consumer crap. It’s not what truly matters or what you’ll cherish in the end.
Regret #1: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
I would have never guessed this to be the No. 1 life regret. But the more I think about it, the more I can relate. I’ve spent A LOT of my life trying to impress other people and suppressing my dreams in order to fit in and feel “accepted.” My old career path, the way I used to dress, talk, and act… Most of this I was doing because that’s the way others were doing it.
Want to hear something really embarrassing? When I quit my job in 2018, I typed into Google, “what should I do on a sabbatical?” It’s not that I didn’t have my own list of things to pursue, it’s that my natural instinct was to check what everyone else was doing before making my own life decisions. Kind of sad.
It’s not all bad though, because the decisions I’ve made in my life have led me to become who I am today. And since discovering the FIRE community and reading more empowering books like The Art of Non-Conformity, I am starting to dance to the beat of my own drum more.
Here are some other things I’m doing to live a truer and more authentic life:
- My wife and I talk about our life goals, regularly. We have clear priorities and due dates, making sure we actually do the things we’re dreaming about.
- We are working toward financial independence! In the meantime, we’re taking advantage of any freedoms we’ve already earned or have been blessed with.
- I started a massive “someday maybe” list. Anytime I get bored I check out the list for ideas. These are my ideas, not other people’s.
- I’m cautious of how much social media I intake. Checking out other people’s lives is fun, but it can be dangerous and addictive.
- When I ask for someone’s advice or opinion, I take it as optional, not mandatory.
Regret #2: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
Bonnie says people “Deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
Ready for another embarrassing personal story? In 2016 my parents came out to visit me from Australia. I welcomed them by working 60 hours that week and making other people show them around LA. I even got a little snappy at them for “visiting me when it was my busy season at work.” I was an asshole, and it brings me to tears just thinking about it. Sorry, Mum and Dad.
Working too hard was 100% my fault. Even my boss told me to take time off to hang with my family. But I didn’t because a) fear of being called a slacker by coworkers and b) I wanted to make more sales so I could earn more money. Two really dumb reasons.
Thankfully, my workaholic days are behind me now. Let’s hear it for Financial Independence! That’s why we’re all here – to build a solid money foundation so that work becomes optional, not mandatory.
But even well before hitting your FI number, there are a bunch of ways to have a better work/life balance. Better yet, a lot of companies these days are embracing and promoting a healthier work lifestyle and environment.
Going forward, here are some things I’m trying to balance my work/life better:
- Pursue work that’s in line with my values.
- Take advantage of remote working! (no commute, different workplaces, travel while working)
- Take a lot of time off, especially for big family occasions and life events.
- Work smarter, not harder — maximizing my most efficient times of the day.
- Turn off phone/computer more regularly, being more present during off time.
Regret #3: “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
Have I told you readers lately that I love you? 😍 And how beautiful and handsome you all are?
Kidding aside, I really am trying to express my feelings a lot more. Here’s a few examples of stuff I’m trying to do more:
- Express appreciation when people help me. I’ve begun emailing authors after reading their books, writing thank you letters, and telling people the impact they’ve had on me.
- Calling people instead of texting/emailing. Voice gets my *feelings* across, text does not.
- Sticking up for myself when I’m being crapped on. (Previously I’d just let my wife fight my battles for me 🤣 but now I’m learning to be a big boy)
- Journaling and blogging has really helped me share more feelings. Stuff that would otherwise never have been released.
- Asking better and *deeper* questions when having conversations with friends. This brings a deeper connection vs. just surface level topics.
Regret #4: “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
I guess it’s a lot easier these days with Facebook and other online platforms. (Bonnie’s article came out in 2009, Facebook was invented in 2004, and most of her patients were of the older generation and probably didn’t use social media).
Regardless, I think “staying in touch” is a lot more than just having a ton of FB friends or wishing an old pal happy birthday once a year. It’s making the effort to reach out, re-connect, reminisce about past shared events, and support each other.
I think the pandemic brought many old friends back together (virtually). I certainly reconnected with more old friends this past year than in prior years. Checking in and visiting old friends regularly is high on my priority list going forward.
Regret #5: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
The earlier in life you realize that happiness is a choice, the sooner you can take ownership and start building systems to improve your experience and memories.
I’ve spent the last 3 years studying happiness. It’s an ongoing process, not an overnight switch. Here are the quickest and simplest routes I use to boost my happiness. I do these consistently, building a habit of happiness.
- Doing good deeds for others. I believe the quickest route to happiness is making others happy.
- Daily appreciation. Simply focusing on all the things you do have, vs. all the things you don’t have.
- Constant celebration. It doesn’t matter how big or small the occasion, I’m going to celebrate it. Every day is a celebration. 🥳
- Beware of negative people. I’ve become hyper sensitive about who I surround myself with. I’ve got no problem sharing my happiness with others (it’s unlimited!), but I do have a problem with people trying to share their negativity with me.
- Get outside more. The sun shines on those who are outside.
- Sleep well, eat healthy, exercise and have plenty of sex. Hahaha! Oops, that was an overshare. But seriously, taking care of your basic human needs is key to happiness.
Cheers to Fewer Regrets in Life!
Well, there you have it! Live true to yourself, don’t overwork, express your feelings, call your old friends, and work on your happiness. Easy peasy.
You and I will probably have some regrets on our deathbed, but they aren’t going to be the common ones!
Any of you readers spent time with people at the end of their life? Anything to add?
Love you all,