I want to share something I read that really hit home for me. It is from a book titled ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying written by Bronnie Ware. Bronnie spent several years caring for dying people in their homes in the last 3 – 12 weeks of their lives. She describes how, “Some incredibly special times were shared” and …”When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again”. Bronnie found that there was a clear pattern of the regrets they expressed about their lives in those last weeks and she writes about these in her book. It is a memoir of her own life and how it was transformed through the regrets of the dying people she cared for. This is a summary of the 5 most common regrets of the dying (using her words from her book).
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and realized it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
- I wish I didn’t work so hard.
Women spoke of this regret but this came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many 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. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content.
Why do we do this?
Reading about these 5 regrets highlighted for me, yet again, how it all comes down to choices we make every day of our lives. Being stressed is a choice. Being happy is another choice. Why is it that we tend to choose to be stressed so much more easily and more often than we choose to be happy?
The thing about choosing to be stressed is that from the moment we make that choice (even though it may be an unconscious choice), whatever we do for the remainder of the day, the week, the month, the year, will not be life-enhancing. Choosing to be stressed means that we will work to keep busy so we cannot think or feel; we will let friendships slip because we don’t have the time or energy; we will put off saying what we really feel because it is easier to grin and bear it; and for me, the worst thing of all is that we will live a mediocre existence, either because we don’t even know what our wildest dream is or because we do have an amazing dream for ourselves but we are just too stressed and tired to put it into action.
Above all else the choice to be stressed means that we will not have the capacity to be happy. Being stressed and not being happy will – eventually – always lead to ill health. To quote Bronnie Ware: “From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it’.
Two Tools for Making the Stress-Free Choice
1. At the end of each day, check your schedule for the following day and ask yourself 3 questions:
i. What color can I wear today that makes me feel happy?
ii. What have I got scheduled in my day that boosts my happiness (lunch with a good friend; volunteering; shopping for a gift for someone; meditating, going to a funny movie, taking a long walk; learning something new… If you don’t have a happiness event scheduled for the day – make one happen.
iii. Is my schedule packed too tight so that it will make me feel stressed? If your schedule is too tight for comfort make the choice to shift something to another day.
2. Say the following four affirmations to yourself when you wake up and at many different times throughout the day:
I feel alive, vital and excited.
I do what I love and love what I do.
Good things always happen to me; good things always happen through me.
I am happy, blessed and grateful for all that I have.
Regret is a horrible emotion.
I don’t know how you feel about this but I refuse to choose to be so stressed that I make myself ill and then depart with feelings of regret. So please join me and let’s consciously CHOOSE to begin to free ourselves of our old stress habits. Let’s CHOOSE to live powerful, authentic, peaceful and inspired lives. And if we use the tools described above every day, taking one step at a time, we will soon be living blessed, joy-filled and healthy lives filled with loving relationships.
Bronnie writes, ‘Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.