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Top 5 Biggest Regrets of The Dying (And How You Can Avoid Them)
Woman sitting alone on isolated bench

Top 5 Biggest Regrets of The Dying (And How You Can Avoid Them)

Are you living a life that won't lead to regrets? Or do you already have regrets about the past?


To me, regret is one of the worst feelings humans can experience. I started thinking about deathbed regrets after hearing legendary motivational speaker Les Brown at a seminar last year, where he painted this vivid picture: 

Imagine if you will being on your death bed. And standing around your bed, the ghosts of the ideas, the dreams, the abilities, the talents given to you by life. The question is, if you die today what ideas, what dreams, what abilities, what talents, what gifts would die with you?

Most people end up with some (or lots) of regret when the end is near. But, what if you could avoid them? What if you could learn from the biggest regrets of others before it's too late?

Luckily, the research has already been done and documented in the book The Top Five Regrets of The Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.

The book was written by an Australian nurse named Bronnie Ware, who spent several years working with patients who had less than three months to live.  

Here are the five biggest regrets of the dying so you can avoid them and live life to the fullest:

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

This was the number one regret of the dying.

“Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize until they no longer have it," wrote Bonnie. 

How to avoid this regret

Be unapologetically you. Be selfish about your goals, dreams, and desires. You only get one life.

Don’t waste another second trying to live the life that everyone “thinks” you should be living. Choose to believe in you and go after your dreams and ambitions.

Have the courage to quit the job you hate or leave the friendships that are dragging you down. At the end of the day, you should be able to look yourself in the mirror and say, "I'm proud of you."

2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”  

Bonnie notes that most of her patients with this regret were men as they were from an older generation of being the breadwinners, but some women expressed this regret as well. “This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.”

How to avoid this regret

Know what you are trying to achieve with your career or business. Don’t get caught up in the rat race of trying to outwork everyone by putting in 80 hour weeks. Sure, you might need to do this at times, but don’t make it a habit.

Remember that you need to still need to have downtime and off days. Focus on spending as much time with the people that matter most.

3. “I wish I had the courage to express my feelings”

In her study, Bonnie found that people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. She believes this led to illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

How to avoid this regret

Never hide your feelings with people, especially the ones you love most. While it’s easy to not want to hurt feelings or create uncomfortable situations, this habit can be dangerous. Not only for your relationships and success but also your health.

Choose to express yourself with others so your feelings are always known.

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


Everyone misses their friends when they are dying,” wrote Bonnie. She said that patients would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks. By then, it was often times too late to track friends down. 

How to avoid this regret

Luckily, social media makes it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends. While social media is great, don't be above an unexpected text or call to an old friend. Reach out to one or two people each week with a nice email, text or call to stay connected.

Express your gratitude to these people regularly so you can continue your lifelong relationships as you get older.

5. “I wish I had let myself be happier.”

The final regret is about patients not letting themselves be happy enough.

With all the stresses of adult life, it’s easy to feel like a hamster on a wheel. Pay the bills, work, live for the weekends, and repeat each week. Even if you are in this cycle, know that you can be happy whenever you want.

Happiness is a choice.

Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to themselves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

How to avoid this regret

Never forget that happiness is a choice. You are 100% responsible for your life and your happiness. Choose to be happy no matter what. Sure, you will have bad days but don’t make a bad day turn into a bad week, month or year.

Know how to get yourself out of a funk and always choose to be happy. You only get one life, make the most of it by choosing happiness so you can experience life to the fullest.

Eliminate regret forever

No matter how old you are and what stage you are in life, remember there is no need for regret. This negative emotion makes people suffer and live in the past instead of pursuing their goals to the fullest. While you should learn from the past, don’t dwell on it so that it takes away from your present and future.

Learn from these five biggest regrets of the dying to make sure you can avoid them and create a life you cherish. Don’t waste another second at a job, or on a relationship or person who isn’t making your life better.

Most importantly, live a life that is true to you.

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