I've always been interested in the wisdom of our elders and often do a practice with students and clients when they've seemed to veer off the path of what truly matters in their lives. I ask them to project themselves forward many years from now looking back onto this very moment right now, what do they wish they would've done? Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent many years working in palliative care caring for those who were dying. She eventually published a book called the The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Regrets can be seen as something that's good if they give us insight into what we can change today for the better. Here are the top five. Use them as a north star to help guide your actions in the days that follow toward an even more fulfilling life. Although we can veer off the path, when we notice the star, we can always come back to it.
Top 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.
From the time we're born we're looking to our parents to teach us the rules of this world and to guide our expectations about how we should or shouldn't act. Looking to our culture or other people to guide how we should dress, speak, act, and even what kind of profession we should be in is common. What would it look like to get in touch with what seems right to you and live an authentic life?
I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
As the saying goes, no one ever kicked themselves on their deathbeds for missing a day of work. Sometimes we work too much out of routine, other times from other people's expectations and sometimes as an addictive behavior to avoid discomfort. Are there things that may be more valuable to pay attention to where we can loosen up on working so hard and pay attention to things that nourish us more?
I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
Whether it's at work, in a friendship or a partnership we make the snap judgment to bite our tongue rather than being assertive. Standing in an authentic life means becoming aware of and expressing our feelings. This may be a missed opportunity to let others know we love them that can create deeper connections or maybe it's a time when someone hurts us and we stay silent out of fear. Learning how to become more aware of our emotions and express them in a skillful way can help us feel more connected, self-reliant and happy.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
There's no question. At the crux of feeling happy and fulfilled in life is having nurturing relationships. There are so many ways to stay connected nowadays through text, chat, email, social media, the phone and of course face to face. How might you make it a priority to make relationships an integral part of your day to day life?
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Bronnie Ware said that many people didn't notice until the end of life that happiness is a choice. With awareness we can make conscious choices about what nourishes us and what depletes us. What beliefs we want to invest in and which ones we don't. We may get hooked into states of high stress, anxiety, depression and even trauma reactions, but at some point we get to choose how we want to relate to them and this may help us ride them with more grace. Maybe it's time to play a little more, what makes you happy?
Take a moment to look back once again at these five regrets people have had and see where you can begin integrating these more into your life starting today.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy
For more by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., click here.
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