As we journey through life, it’s natural to reflect on the things we’ve accomplished and the paths we’ve taken. But as we get closer to the end of our lives, it’s also common to have moments of regret. Regrets about the things we wished we’d done differently, the opportunities we let slip by, and the relationships we wished were stronger.
Based on the experiences of hospice workers and those who have been through the end-of-life process, there are 10 common regrets of the dying that seem to arise time and time again. These regrets range from not following our passions, to neglecting relationships, to not speaking our truth. While they can be tough to contemplate, they can also serve as powerful lessons for living a life without regrets.
In this post, we’ll explore each of these 10 common regrets of the dying, along with some simple practical tips to remedy them. Whether you’re just starting out on your journey, or well into your life’s journey, it’s never too late to make changes that bring you closer to a life lived with purpose and joy.
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
You often feel regret at the end of your life when you’ve spent years trying to please others instead of pursuing your passions and desires. Society’s expectations, peer pressure, and a fear of failure can all lead you to feel like you haven’t lived a life that’s true to yourself.
- Write down your values, beliefs and goals. Evaluate your life against these things and make adjustments to align with what’s important to you.
- Surround yourself with supportive people who encourage you to live a life true to yourself.
- Take small steps towards living a life that feels authentic to you. This can be as simple as saying yes to invitations that align with your interests, or taking up a new hobby that you’ve always wanted to try.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
For some, work takes over their lives, causing them to ignore their personal relationships, health, and overall well-being. As a result, you may feel regret at the end of your life, even if you’ve been successful in your career. This regret can come from a sense of emptiness, as well as from being physically and mentally exhausted from working long hours.
- Prioritize rest and leisure time in your schedule. This can include things like reading, going for walks, or simply taking time for yourself.
- Practice good self-care habits, like eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
- Evaluate what’s truly important to you and make changes to your work-life balance to align with these values.
“Work to live, don’t live to work.” – Unknown
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
When you hold back your feelings, whether it’s speaking up in a relationship or not expressing your true thoughts in a situation, you may feel sad and regretful. The fear of conflict or judgment can make you suppress your emotions, leaving you feeling unfulfilled in your relationships and in life.
- Practice self-reflection and identify your emotions.
- Consider therapy or counseling to help you work through your feelings and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
- Surround yourself with supportive people who will listen and validate your feelings.
“Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.” – Maggie Kuhn
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
Life can be busy, and it’s easy for you to lose touch with friends over the years. But when you look back, you may regret not making an effort to stay in contact with important people in your life. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and a sense of missed opportunities.
- Make a list of friends you’d like to reconnect with and reach out to them.
- Make an effort to stay in touch with friends by scheduling regular check-ins or outings.
- Consider joining a club, group or community that aligns with your interests to make new friends.
“A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.” – Bernard Meltzer.
I wish that I had let myself be happier
When you focus on your responsibilities and what’s expected of you, rather than your own happiness, you may feel unhappy and dissatisfied. Not giving yourself the chance to pursue joy and fulfillment can make you regret not taking better care of your own well-being.
- Practice gratitude by taking time each day to reflect on what you’re thankful for.
- Surround yourself with positive and supportive people.
- Make time for activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” – Dalai Lama
I wish I’d had more courage to fight for what I wanted
Throughout your life, it’s common to give in to fear, doubt, and insecurity, causing you to compromise on your desires, goals, and aspirations. But when you look back on your life, you may realize that you missed out on opportunities and experiences that would have brought you joy and fulfillment.
- Cultivate a growth mindset, embrace challenges, and view failures as opportunities for growth.
- Build self-confidence and resilience by facing your fears, setting and achieving small goals, and celebrating your successes.
- Surround yourself with supportive individuals who encourage you to pursue your dreams and who believe in your potential.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
I wish I’d traveled more
You may look back and regret not taking advantage of opportunities to travel and see the world. This can be due to a fear of the unknown, financial constraints, or simply not making travel experiences a priority.
- Start planning your next trip, even if it’s just a small one.
- Create a travel bucket list and work towards ticking off items on the list.
- Consider trying new experiences, like traveling solo or visiting new cultures, to expand your horizons.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine
I wish I’d had the courage to tell people what I think
Throughout your life, you may hold back from speaking up and sharing what’s on your mind because you fear being judged or causing conflict. But as you reflect on your life, you may realize that it’s your own thoughts, feelings, and opinions that make you unique. Suppressing these parts of yourself only leads to unhappiness and regret.
- Practice self-reflection and identify your values, beliefs and opinions.
- Surround yourself with supportive people who will listen to what you have to say.
- Practice speaking up, even if it’s in small ways, like joining a conversation or sharing your thoughts in a meeting.
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” – Elbert Hubbard.
I wish I’d had a better relationship with my family
Family relationships can be complex, and you may look back and regret not mending broken relationships or creating stronger bonds with family members. This regret can come from misunderstandings, conflicts, and not making enough effort to improve family dynamics.
- Identify specific areas in your relationship with your family that you’d like to improve and work on these.
- Practice forgiveness and let go of past grudges or misunderstandings.
- Make time for regular family gatherings or outings to strengthen your relationships.
“The love of family and the admiration of friends is much more important than wealth and privilege.” – Charles Kuralt
I wish I’d have had more time with my loved ones
If you’ve lost a loved one, you may feel regret about not spending more time with them. This regret of the dying can come from a sense of missed opportunities, as well as from not expressing your love and gratitude for them often enough.
- Prioritize spending quality time with loved ones, whether that’s through regular catch-ups, date nights, or shared activities.
- Practice gratitude by acknowledging the important people in your life and expressing appreciation for them.
- Make memories with loved ones by doing things you enjoy together, like traveling, trying new experiences, or something as simple as relaxing at home.
“Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet.” – Sarah Louise Delany
Moving forward with the knowledge of the ‘regrets of the dying’
It’s important to remember that it’s never too late to make changes and live a life without regrets. By reflecting on these common regrets of the dying and understanding the reasons behind them, we can learn to prioritize what truly matters and make proactive steps towards a fulfilling life. Whether it’s spending more time with loved ones, pursuing our passions, or standing up for what we believe in, each small step can lead to a life full of happiness and contentment.
So, let’s use these regrets of the dying as a reminder to live life to the fullest, to take risks, to love deeply, and to never take a single day for granted. The journey of life is precious and limited, so let’s make the most of it, and strive towards a life that we can look back on with pride and satisfaction.
And if you find this post helpful, please share it with your loved ones. Let’s spread the message of living life to the fullest and avoid these common regrets together.
“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” – Francis Chan
I should have spoken my mind instead of holding back and resenting things – I turn to hold back on a lot of things
& I never pursued my dreams and aspirations ….
Excellent list – i have done all i wanted in life, and have no regrets, i am still young enough, to do things if i choose, i also had the man of my dreams too, i was happy, and i though that he was too, he threw himself into his work to avoid me, and then he left me for someone else and he is not happy with his choice, i am trying desparatly to convince him to be happy, and if its not me,(yes i would take him back) if he wants, that he should find someone else to be happy with, as life is short and we only have one go at it. i am keeping a copy of this list to show him and also my friends. thanks for sharing
“(yes i would take him back) ”
a strong woman, you are.
Many of these are choices of the privileged class – 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, particularly question #7 and that having kids will assure happiness later in life and that they will be there for you. I have older relatives who had children/cousins but are separated from them because of conflicts, and these are older relatives in their 80s. Just because you have children doesn’t mean they’ll be there for you. I am there for my parents. I know some people my age who have nothing to do with their parents. And many parents aren’t able to leave money to their children as they just don’t have it. Many of these points are a dream of those who are privileged and does not apply to the majority who don’t have a choice of what they do for a living as they just need to get by. My husband and I do not have kids and we are very happy with our lives and circles of friends, our families and are able to chose our careers and how we spend our time. The majority of people I would say do not have that privilege of choice.
Any time people mention the “privileged” class it always raises a red flag for me. It says to me that they are choosing to be a victim and that they’ve already accepted defeat. It’s so easy to say oh, poor me. I’m not rich, I’m not smart, nobody handed me an opportunity to make my life better. Boo hoo. Many of the so called privileged class arrived there because of their hard work. They may not have been the smartest, richest or luckiest to have great opportunity but they made a life for themselves and succeeded. I’m sure many of them tried and tried again until they did come to a place of comfort. It seems like you protest the having children point too much. If it was something you didn’t want to do so what? You’re happy with that decision great. Most people don’t have children so they are taken care of in old age, that is a selfish thought. And most people who have had children who don’t care for them don’t expect them to. I don’t know why you included having children with being privileged. That’s just ridiculous and we all know a good part of the population propagates and expects the government to pay for bringing up their children. Just another flaw of our people.
“Just because you have children doesn’t mean they’ll be there for you”
Not to mention that in this unchecked capitalist age, those children will be having to work like asses to make a living and sustain their lives and their own children. Therefore they wont be able to be there even if they want to.
Again Dale, by no coincidence, you have posted something that I needed to hear in exactly the right moment. Thank you for taking the time to selflessly share these tidbits of wisdom. grateful.
Such a lovely attempt to help those of us who are still young & healthy raise awareness of what matters in life! I do appreciate this article. Unfortunately, I have heard #2 way too many times and I agree with “PJ” that this list (especially #2) is full of choices of the privileged class. I love my family more than anything. I am not a “career-minded” woman trying to work my way up some ladder and focusing only on the praise I receive from those in the workforce – I would MUCH rather be at home with my children, spending time with them and hanging out. I’m not even a single mom – I got married before I had any children, I only had two kids, and both my husband and I graduated from college and sought the best jobs we could find. And neither of us has ever been unemployed for any extended period of time, and we have never been on public assistance. In other words, I would say we are doing ALL WE POSSIBLY CAN to rightfully support our family. We don’t have luxuries, we don’t live beyond our means, we don’t have credit card debts – we don’t even own our home. But we understand that we have to work in order to eat. And often that means working a second job (for either or both of us) just to pay medical bills, grocery bills, buy gas for our late-model vehicles, and manage to eek out the necessities in life. We never ask our aging parents to help pay our bills – they are OUR bills. But we definitely struggle. When I hear someone talk about “working too much and not spending enough time with family”, it makes me sick to my stomach. Seriously, what the heck MORE could I possibly be doing to make time for my family? I need to make sure they are not in poor health or malnourished, so I HAVE TO WORK. I have to work a lot. 🙁
Hey, Trish, I know exactly what you mean and I’m in the same page as you. I think this article is not patronizing, as if it was saying: “You work to much and you don’t make time for your family, shame on you!” It is just a realization of numerous people that, looking back, they think they could have made more time for their family, as in being with them, physically, for a larger period of time. Many of them surely weren’t part of the privileged class, but life experience thought them that some of those items could have been met event without the privilege. And some of those items could refer only to states of mind, such as “living truthfully”, which doesn’t imply having money to spend in expensive trips – only having your mind set more in the present moment rather than preoccupied with things that may happen. And specifically about “working too much”, this could mean only having your mind out of work when not at work, for example, I think. When we are with our spouses and children, we should really BE with them, that’s all, giving our thoughts and attention to them and not to problems at work or about getting a different job, etc. That’s just my view on it, I hope it resonates with you.
I agree Allan – and I also understand what Trish is saying. I was a single parent and had to do it tough to support my son, but there’s something missing here. Taking stock of your life or pulling back to get a bird’s eye view of how you’re living and what you can do to make things better is a good way of dealing with spinning your wheels and going nowhere.
If your work is not conducive to a happy balance – analyze the situation and create a better pathway. I used to be a Career Adviser and helped many people by looking at how they could better themselves and their situations to find better jobs that paid more and gave them a greater sense of fulfillment.
Those of us in Trish’s situation would benefit if we took a look at the local job markets and skill shortages in our areas, in order to try and align our skill-sets with what’s going on in the labor market. Also – seek out opportunities that give us a chance to make money from our hobbies – like local markets and selling crafts, art, writing, cooking etc.
Check out local community centers that might have classes – either free or cheap – to skill up (matching local labor needs, as mentioned above) so that your skill-set is enhanced – making your resume more appealing to the labor market.
Thinking outside the box and using the old adage, “Work smarter, not harder” – paves the way for a happier life – at work and at home. Not trying to be preachy – just trying to help!
Remember that this is the result of a poll of the dying. There are no wrong answers. It should make us all contemplate our daily choices and goals. A powerful motivator. And while we don’t always choose our circumstances we do choose our attitudes and responses to it in trying to be happy.
#5 is a tough one due to so many people in today’s world that would rather fight you than debate you. We are quickly becoming an uncivilized society…
I am bad at talking to girls. And it has become a habit to hold myself back even if an opportunity knocks my door. I am trying hard to break this mental rut of shyness. I want to die a bold person. Any help will be appreciated.
treat them like guys. (not a joke)
I was painfully shy as a teenager, and terrified of rejection. I started to tell myself, “hey, she’s WITH you man, so she LIKES you, FOOL!” And, “what have you got to lose!” I also imagined the billions of centuries in the distant future in which I would be dead as a doornail and all would be utterly insignificant, immaterial, gone forever. What a horrible thought! Seize the day! When I finally got the guts to reach out and touch a girl, or move for a kiss, the results were….. NICE! Hey, I’m no playboy, either. Just wanted to love and be loved. Most girls are waiting for the guys to make the moves. At least that’s the way it was when I was young!
Read ‘the game’ by neil strauss
You only need 20 seconds of insane courage….be courageous.
IF you are interested in a girl, say hi, compliment on her dress, hair or anything at all, then start asking questions about her. Try not to worry about the impression you are making and concentrate on what she is saying. The highest compliment you can make someone is being truly interested in themn as a person., You may not wind up dating but i can almost guarantee you will make a friend. “ if you want a friend, be a friend”. I used to tell my kids and grandkids being happy was a choice but I have changed that to “ Being joyous is a choice”. John ( 72 years and joyous).
Number 10 – back when I used to have an eating disorder, I tried my hardest every single day to be happy, but because of my disorder, I was still miserable. However, with time, I got better, and today I am very happy. 🙂
But, what if people can’t have children? That one makes me very sad to read. 🙁
There is a book “When the Game is Over, It All goes Back in the Box” by John Ortberg. I think we are here on earth for a specific purpose and how we spend that time during this lifetime is all that matters. We need to realize that everything we have was given to us for a purpose and what we do with those material things is up to us. We didn’t come in this life with them and we aren’t going out with them. They all belong to God and are only for us to use. I believe that we are to use them for our family and friends and all those in our path as we go through life, to live the life that God wants us to live. Nothing belongs to us personally, only entrusted to us. If a person really believes that we each have what we are supposed to have, I think it is easy to share those things, to be giving, and to leave those things behind at the right time. Aging should be graceful and appreciated.
I know lots of older people who do not regret not having children, and i know some people with kids who don’t care about them at all. never a guarantee with kids. I think wanting someone to be there for you when you are old is a terrible reason to have children. But none of my business…just an observation.
Mine is 1 and 8
Having kids is no guarantee that they will be there for you. I have a job where I work on lots of senior and I hear all their stories. Also many people nowadays have no retirement through no fault of their own. Pensions have become obsolete and those that have 401ks have seen them diminish. There are also cases of people becoming ill in between jobs and having their 401ks wiped out for medical expenses. It is wise to plan but then again for some people, life has a way of making their plans go sideways.
I love this list! I actually use her 5 Regret List when I teach Stress Management for Correctional Officers. Each point is going to be individual for each person, but the list overall really helps people start to think about where they are in their lives, if there are any changes they want to make, and what goals they want to set for themselves. I will definitely be upgrading to this 10 Regret List!
2 & 8 contradict each other in this economy
This is a great list. I would add/include knowing which virtues you live by. We focus so much on love we forget about the other virtues such as courage, hope, honor, etc. I mean, they obviously all go together but sometimes there is one virtue guiding our lives. I wish I understood this in high school. I’m just getting clear on this in my thirties. Which leads me to another addition to my list. To not be scared to own my life. For anyone who has experienced violence from others, regularly, courage can be an antidote. Sometimes having the courage to hide and protect ourselves from further harm can be huge. Having the audacity to put ourselves first rather than seeking hero status can take courage.
I am facing death soon from cancer. I have been married 44 years to a good woman….but as I look back I’m not sure she ever really loved me or, to be honest not sure if I ever really loved her. I am ashamed to admit that lately I have been thinking of others I knew before my wife, and wondering how my life would have been different if I had married someone else. I feel great guilt for even having these thoughts
Hi Jim, I hear you and acknowledge you. It is a brave and beautiful thing to allow oneself to honestly reflect. I can only encourage you to have deep love for yourself, and for each person you know, knowing that all we ever do in this life is do the best we know in any given situation, and hopefully learn valuable things along the way. In my view it is less about the paths we take and the choices we make, and more about what we LEARN in doing so, how we evolve in our awareness and who we choose to be in this present moment. It is never too late to choose our way of being, in this very moment, to choose to love ourselves deeply (including all our faults and weaknesses, our past and our present included, we are all human and perfect in all our imperfections). I wish you peace, I wish you healing, may life surround you with everything you need. Blessings, Bernadette