Bronnie Ware is an Australian author well-known for her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.
Bronnie used to be just like many of us, doing a regular job to pay the bills, though the work was unfulfilling. Her life was transformed when she moved to a job in palliative care, aiding those who were on their deathbeds. She heard first hand from those people what their biggest regrets were, which changed the way she lived life in a very profound way.
She is now deeply committed to living a life of courage, free from regret, and teaching others how to do the same. These are her 5 regrets of the dying.
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
We’ve all heard that common piece of life advice that says “do what you love.” But how many people really, truly follow it?
All throughout school we’re told by parents and teachers to pick a “profession”: engineer, doctor, lawyer, or accountant. The money and prestige look great, but is that the job you really want? Is that the life you truly want to live?
If the answer is yes, then absolutely go for it!
But if it’s a no or even just a maybe, then it won’t be a fulfilling career path for you.
Doing what you love every single day is the true path to happiness and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Watch interviews with people like Steve Irwin or Elon Musk or Oprah Winfrey. They love what they do. You literally see a sparkle in their eyes when they talk about their work. Imagine being like that, doing the funnest, happiest thing in the world every single day. It’s such a beautiful thing.
The love for what you do will lead to a life of fulfillment and happiness. Live every single day doing what you love and you’ll never regret a single moment.
Here’s an exercise:
Take a look at how you spend your time and honestly ask yourself: “do I love doing this? Am I happy doing this?”
If the answer is “yes” then keep it up!
If the answer is “no” then try to find a way to incorporate more of what you do enjoy doing into your life. This doesn’t have to happen all at once. Try one area of your life at a time and eventually you’ll build a life full of everything you love.
“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
Work and career take up an enormous part of our lives, 40+ hours a week for most of us. For those who are more ambitious in their careers, that number can easily hit 60, 70, or even 80 hours per week. No doubt, that’s a fast way to make money.
But many people end up regretting this lifestyle at the end of their days. Money, prestige, and career can certainly bring some fulfillment, but nowhere near the happiness that comes from spending time with family and friends.
Most of the happiest moments in my own life have been those random times when I had great laughs with family and friends or did some new activity or experience. Some cost a bit of money, some didn’t. But none of them cost as much as the Rolex and Lamborghini lifestyle being advertised on Instagram.
In the end, it was the experiences and the memories those experiences created that made the biggest lasting impression. And those are really the only things I’ll remember in the long term. The money will fade away eventually.
You only have one shot at life. And in order to live a full life with the least regret, it’s important to spend your limited time on the things that create intrinsic happiness.
Here’s an exercise:
Take a look at your work and ask yourself “what does my work and the money I earn from it allow me to do that I otherwise would not be able to?” Then for each of those things, try to gauge how happy the thing makes you.
For example, your work allows you to put food on the table, clothes on your back, and afford a shelter. Those are definite essentials. But beyond that, many of the things that you might spend money on are material, and those don’t create much intrinsic happiness. Many of the things that do bring intrinsic happiness are immaterial and totally free! Just spending time, chatting, and playing around with friends and family is time well spent.
“I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
Many of us hold back our feelings as a form of protection. It’s a struggle because you feel that when you do express your true feelings, there’s a sense of vulnerability. It’s scary to tell people that you’re scared or nervous. It’s even more terrifying to express really passionate feelings, like love.
But by holding all of those feelings in, you put self-imposed stress on yourself. You’re squeezing yourself tight, keeping everything bottled in so the world doesn’t see it.
But all of that stress is no way to live.
It will take tremendous courage to share your feelings. But when you do, it’s an enormous weight lifted off of your shoulders. You no longer have to bear the burden of holding it all in, because you’ve relieved yourself of that self-imposed stress. That feeling of being free of the burden of stress is so much better than the safety of keeping everything secret.
Be courageous and express your feelings, especially to those that you love. Let it all out and lay everything out on the table. This is your life and you’re going to give it your best shot.
Here’s an exercise:
Write all the feelings you’ve been holding in. Then, make an action plan to let them out. You can make a list like:
- Tell __ I love her
- Tell __ I appreciate him
- Tell __ how I really feel
This way, you have the exact actions that you can take to express your feelings.
“I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
Many of the best memories we create throughout our lives is time spent with friends. Personally, I would also add family here as I have a big extended family and consider many of them to be my closest friends.
Those moments where we just go to the park and throw a ball around or play cards or make up our own games. Those are genuine life moments that could never be planned or be experienced with a structured career or routine.
It’s important to always remember the value of those moments. Especially for those that work a lot, it’s easy to let friends slip out of our lives because we’re so focused on achieving our goals.
But those achievements are so much more fun when shared with friends and family. Friends and family can be everything when you don’t have money. But money means nothing without friends and family,
Do your best to stay in touch with those closest to you. They are a part of what creates life’s happiest memories.
Here’s an exercise:
Make a list of everyone you love and really value in your life. Make sure that you try to spend valuable time with them soon, and on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be super strict, the goal is to try to keep a reminder. It’s easy to forget, so having something planned out will help a lot with remembering.
“I wish I had let myself be happier.”
Happiness is a choice.
We don’t need loads of money or the coolest material items or endless travel to be happy. Happiness something we can choose to feel at any time.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
You can choose your attitude in any situation in life. Hanging out with your family at home can be looked at as “we don’t have money to eat at a restaurant or travel.” But it can also be seen as “I get to spend time with the people I love, this is amazing!”
You can choose to be happy at any time. Every moment in life is worth smiling at. It’s new and different, and a chance to have fun and create memories.
Letting yourself be happier is about choosing to let go of all the stress and pressure. Throw away the requirements that people say you should have to be happy. Have fun and be happy with whatever you have and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Here’s an exercise:
Practice having fun in the moment! Do simple things with your friends and family like playing cards, board games, sports, going for a walk, exploring, trying new things, or just making it all up as you go along! It’s the greatest thing to smile and create memories using just what we have: time and life itself.
Living a life of fulfillment and happiness isn’t complicated. It simply needs a commitment to removing limitations and being true to yourself. Never let other people or society limit your beliefs about what you can do. Live your life with courage and spend your time doing what you love, with the people you love, and smiling all along the way.