You live and you learn, or so the age-old saying goes. While this may be true, there are some life lessons that are best learned from the likes and lives of others. According to a study of verbal expressions of emotions, regret is declared the second most frequently named emotion after love. A universal experience inherent to all human beings, it can offer revelations of living in the present moment while taking into consideration invaluable life lessons of others.
Although we each have our own vices, virtues, and the occasional vendetta, our regrets seem to magically align in the moments leading up to death. Having an understanding of the “common regret” allows you the opportunity to reconsider your own life and some of your decisions in light of the pursuit of happiness.
Subsequent to working several years in palliative care, Australian Nurse Bronnie Ware details her experiences and meditations upon the weight of regret on the onset of death in her bestselling novel, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. The best kept secrets that circulate within the cyclical cycle of life remain encrypted within the text, as Ware exposes the most common regrets that people feel as they get closer to death.
Following her discovery of the evident emotional patterns experienced by her patients, she became hyperaware of the range of emotions they emanated from denial to feelings of fear, anger, remorse, more denial, and finally acceptance. As she embarked on an archeological excavation of their minds in posing the question of regret, Ware perceived a few that stood out in their solidarity.
Pursuit of one’s own dreams and aspirations, rather than struggling to fulfill a life expected by others. In the words of noted transcendentalist and prolific poet Henry David Thoreau, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” Idle dreams that were left unpursued are amongst the most common regrets of all, and prove to be especially debilitating when looking back on your life.
Building up the courage to live a life true to yourself and not according to the expectations of family and friends is no simple task. Whether this means following your dreams of becoming a writer or an astronaut, doing so will bestow a sense of fulfillment in following your heart and living your life according to your own individual autonomy.
Wishing you had not worked so hard. Expressed by each one of Ware’s male patients, this common regret is grounded in the realization that many miss opportunities to enjoy valuable time with family and friends on account of a hefty workload. Major milestones only come once and it is important to keep sight of that, in light of day to day responsibilities that may seem more precedent at the time.
While working hard is always rewarding, life can be too short to spend less time with those that you love. It can be easy to get caught up in work or school, and yet sometimes a sense of simplicity is all you really need.
Having the courage to express one’s true feelings. This one hits close to home. Courage is a tricky little thing. If pursued, it can build you up and make the world your oyster in the matter of seconds. If suppressed, it can stifle your entire existence on account of other people.
Emotions are meant to be expressed and explored, and when they are left to internally bubble, the outcome results in bitterness and resentment. Communication is key here, and confrontation is ultimately constructive in the development of mutual respect and understanding in relationships.
Maintaining relationships with friends. Friends and family add richness to your life. At times when we get busy and our day to day responsibilities seem to take over our every thought, it is important to keep in touch with the people we consider near and dear to us.
Friendships are like ferns, delicate and deserving of our time and energies. It appears that at the end of the day, when death is looming, this should be valued above wealth and personal achievement. Ware’s study reveals that in the last few weeks of her patients lives, love and relationships triumphed above all.
Letting yourself be happier. As death imminently approaches, many people realize they have been subconsciously putting limitations on their ultimate happiness. As internationally renowned French singer Edith Piaf sang, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” or in other words, I have no regrets.
Happiness does not equate monetary value or wealth. It is not determined by social standing, material belongings, or the trappings of life, but by the relationships we value most. If your happiness is falling short, do not let yourself settle. You have the power to make changes in your life and if something is standing in your way, it is your responsibility to better a situation while you can. Health allows us the freedom to make these changes, while the onset of death illuminates these feelings.