Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

How to Avoid the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

White Lily

In her best-selling memoir, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, Bronnie Ware shares 5 disappointments people commonly express as they near death. See if any of these ring true for you:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Do one or more of these fit for you?  Then you know where to begin to avoid last minute regrets. And it would be good to start now because it takes time to change habits.

However, your regrets may have an entirely different flavor.  Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until you’re dying to know what you’ll regret. Just take an honest look at your life right now.

If you died this very moment, what would you regret? 

Grab a piece of paper and jot down what immediately comes to mind.  Then sit with it for awhile.

Positive Qualities That Can Help You Calmly Face Death

This would be my top regret:

I wish I’d spent more time in meditation practice, cultivating positive qualities like peace, love, kindness, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, and a spacious perspective.

More than anything else, I know these inner qualities will help me face death with greater calm and clarity. And, most importantly, without regrets.

These very same qualities enrich each moment and allow me to live joyfully now, when I’m able to call them forth.  That’s not all the time, by any means.  In some moments, my emotions tangle up my mind and pull me in unwise directions. So I know it takes time, intention, and discipline to consistently give rise to the positive.

  • That’s why I’m called to sit quietly by myself.  Quiet tames the the mind, which then naturally exudes these qualities.
  • That’s why I’m drawn to working in the our small fruit orchard, where thoughts and emotions subside, time vanishes, and the joy of simple presence bubbles up.

These practice strengthen my mind so I can be present for others without becoming ungrounded, unkind, and unhelpful when the least little negative emotion blows.

No doubt your regrets will be different than mine.  Whatever you find at the top of your list, your life will become so much more meaningful and fulfilling when you decide to banish regrets right now.

You May Not Have All the Time in the World

Do you ignore the possibility of death and think you have all the time in the world?  Most people do, but that could be a mistake.

After being diagnosed with a rare sarcoma, 24-year old Asher Lipson wrote:

“It is frustrating to feel that you have mismanaged your time, or that there isn’t enough time to accomplish the things that you would like to do. Right now I feel that I haven’t used my time well, and it pains me to look back at all of the hours wasted.”

Twenty-four seems too young to die, doesn’t it? But this life offers no guarantees.  We only know that death is certain, we don’t know when or how until it arrives.  If we don’t wake up and live intentionally, it will be easy to have regrets whether we die at 24 or 104.

10 Simple Guidelines for a Meaningful Life

Did you make a list?  If so, it will tell you what you need to do in the present so you don’t look back with regrets.  For extra security, here are some simple life guidelines to complement your list.

  1. Never go to sleep with anger in your heart.
  2. Express your love daily and don’t forget to include yourself.
  3. Practice kindness.  Even a simple smile can elevate someone’s day.
  4. Be present and attentive to others instead of being in your head always thinking of the past and future.
  5. Appreciate all that you have. Chances are it’s much more than most people in the world.
  6. Understand challenges as opportunities for growth. Lean into them with spaciousness and humor.
  7. Have faith in yourself.  You have enormous potential so don’t listen to any inner voices that tell you otherwise.
  8. Spend quiet time with yourself everyday. Allow the mental chatter to subside so you can get in touch with your true self – the one that continues beyond death.
  9. Acknowledge any harmful actions right away, ask for forgiveness, and make amends.
  10. Establish your priorities and re-evaluate them regularly.  Whenever you’re about to engage in a task or project, ask yourself, “Will this be important when I die?”

I know this is a tall order so don’t put pressure on yourself.  Instead, think of it as a list of aspirations. Don’t stress about perfection, just do the best you can.  Have realistic expectations and be compassionate with yourself. Almost all of us live in confusion with mixed up priorities. Let the delusion peel off one layer at a time, accepting and loving yourself as a work in progress.

If you haven’t made your list of regrets yet, considering doing so soon.  Then develop counter actions and put them in place one at a time.  Glance at your list daily, so you’ll never forget to live without regrets.

Do you think you’ll have regrets when you die?  What regrets come to your mind right now?

I’m so glad you’re here! If you liked this article, please consider subscribing for free updates by email.  If you can take a moment to share this post on social media, I would be very grateful.  With love, Sandra

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34 Comments

  1. Jean Sampson

    This is a powerful post, Sandra! I want to sit and think with my heart and a pencil in my hand to see what regrets pop up! Thanks for making me aware that there might be some areas in my life that need to be dealt with or changed. Again. thanks for this powerful post!

    • You’re welcome, Jean. I think these 5 regrets are powerful motivators to explore our own. Although I’ve heard of them before, I didn’t give them serious thought till now. And, living my true priorities is just so big for me right now.

  2. A rich post Sandra filled with empowering and motivating questions. I totally get living life to the fullest is important to me and letting go of doubts or fears of any kind. Hmmm you’ve given me something to contemplate. Thank you. 🙂

    • Dear Elle,

      I know you get living life to the fullest! You’re such an inspiration in that way. I’m glad I could still share some tiny bits to contemplate upon. You’re so welcome and much love to you.

  3. I love the feel of this message. I would also add, if one does take the time to list regrets, not to judge or be upset with oneself for whatever is on the list, just start moving through it, with appreciation for the presence one is vesting now.

    If I died this moment, I wouldn’t have any regrets. After being quite ill a few years ago, I made it a priority to organize my life to have plenty of time to express and experience love in connection and creation (including time in nature and lots of time with my kids). I intend to live whole-heartedly with love and gratitude, and as long as I honor that intention, I live regret-free.

    There are some pain-filled moments that when I was in them, I wished weren’t happening but ultimately they served to open my heart further, which led to greater peace (and there are much more peaceful, joyful ways to open my heart space, so I am vested in those!).

    • This is a perfect addition, Joy: ” I would also add, if one does take the time to list regrets, not to judge or be upset with oneself for whatever is on the list, just start moving through it, with appreciation for the presence one is vesting now.” Thank you!

      It’s so inspiring to know that you would die without regrets. It shows us the wide open sky of possibility.

    • You said so much of what I was going to say, Joy!

      I think the key is to look at the life we are living and the life we want to live, and figure out what fears and misunderstandings are keeping us from living the way we want. We’re always doing the best we can with the tools we have, so there really is never any reason for regrets. But periodically looking deeply and asking, “Why am I doing this? What is keeping me from doing what I want to?” can be very helpful. 🙂

  4. I agree, super powerful post. You’re on a roll! I’ve lived my life around the principle that I’d rather do something than not do it and then wish I had. That’s served me well but non-the-less my list of potential regrets is terrifying. I feel very blessed to have lived so long and hope to spend my remaining years focusing on what’s important.

    • That’s a great principle to add to the conversation, Annabel. Thanks! You seem to be getting clear with everyday that goes by. It’s easy to get distracted – at least for me – but I think you will do well staying on purpose. Much love to you!

  5. Hi Sandra,

    Just a few days ago, while discussing the death of a distant relative, I actually said that I was ready to go. My daughter said: Oh mom, come on, you don’t have any kind of chronic illness or disease. Why do you say so.

    I knew why I think like that. Having had a near death experience 24 years ago, having the lovely years that were given to me like a bonus, having learnt to live with gratitude and without any regrets, I feel I have moved far beyond the latter. If any, I have made peace with them, lived my life the way I wanted… None of your five regrets listed here, ring true with me!

    I know wishes and desires never abate but none of the new ones are so powerful to stick their head out and say…Oh! I want to do this or that. Thanks for the waking up call!

    • Balroop,

      It’s marvelous to hear that none of these 5 top regrets of the dying ring true for you. You’ve gained so much clarity from your near-death experience! It’s encouraging to know that it’s possible to make peace with death. I’m so glad you had this extra time – it’s been a bonus for us too!

      You seem awake and clear and not in need of reminders. But still, may you have a long life full of joy and meaning.

  6. Hi Sandra,

    I had my coming to Jesus, Buddha, and Winnie-the-Pooh meeting nearly 11 years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was my cosmic dope slap. I have no regrets and I’m living my life with no regrets. Sure, sometimes it takes me longer to learn a life lesson, but I’m beginning to really see that I’m unfolding exactly as I should be.

    xo
    Peggy

    • Hi Peggy,

      I’m so sorry you had to go through that suffering. But, I get that you get it and I appreciate how you trust in your unfolding exactly as you should be. It’s huge to have that level of trust! Much love to you, Peggy.

  7. I love the line, “If we don’t wake up and live intentionally, it will be easy to have regrets whether we die at 24 or 104.” That’s the truth, isn’t it? That we could die at any age and that regrets wait for no one. If we have regrets now then now is the time to change them. I used to have a lot of regrets because of things I’ve been through in my life and from feeling held back because of them. It motivated me to make changes and live more fully to the point where now I don’t like to use the word ‘regret’ anymore. I like to look at each situation as a learning opportunity and to know that whatever I did at the time was the best I could do at that time. Rather than look back and feel like I have regrets, I like to look forward and focus on how I can do my best in each moment to come. Anyway, great post, Sandra!

    • I love your attitude, Mellisa. I think you’re complete right: It doesn’t help us to linger on regrets. It only helps to know them so we can move forward and act positively now. I used to have much bigger regrets that haunted me in a way, but I’ve found a way to heal them. Now, I’m onto the subtle ones.

      Yes, it’s so true that death could come at any moment! Thanks for adding your perspective to the conversation. It brings in a new thread.

  8. Richard

    Thanks Sandra. I especially liked the question“Will this be important when I die?” Warmly, Richard.

  9. Sandra- This is an incredibly powerful post. You have hit on a subject that most people dare admit is always lurking around in their unconscious. I am in the process of tending to a dying father. To listen to his regrets serves as a strong reminder that each moment is precious and to be used wisely! Thank you for this- it is nutrition for my soul. xo-Fran

    • Dear Fran,

      Thank you! I also think it’s a powerful topic that could really liberate us from the unimportant if we bear it in mind. I hope your father isn’t suffering too much from regret. That’s another important discussion: how we help people let go of regrets since many cannot be changed when you are already facing death. I’m really touched that you find the article “nutrition” for your soul. Much love to you!

  10. Great article. I use these top 5 regrets in my Life Coaching Practice and in workshops all the time. For a long time I carried these with me and both read them and share them. They make such an impact. I am forever grateful for having heard of them. It is nice to see your take on the topic as well. I would add in to “Live Fearlessly and in Joy” as much as possible.

    • Hi Maggie,

      What a great idea! To write these down and carry them with you to read and share. Thanks for offering that idea to us. They are so powerful, I can see why you feel so grateful. Thanks for taking part in the conversation.

  11. Ok Sandra, you’ve shown up at the perfect time 🙂 I have been go go going for the last 3 weeks and it’s time for this gentle reminder. I have been good about doing my special meditation technique but not as attentive to and present for those I love. Thanks for this. I’m ON it 🙂

  12. It’s so true bout life. We should live as if there is no tomorrow. At times, I forget to live but u’ve reminded me to make the most of life.

    • Vishal, That’s the perfect way to put it! Make it easier to remember. But of course, we all forget at times and it helps to have reminders. Be well!

  13. Timely Sandra!

    For me it always comes back to my children and perhaps my expectations around the kind of parent I want to be, are too high. The times I hurry them, speak harshly, fob them off… There are regrets and there may be a few more and each one is a memory that pulls me back into the present.

    Mostly I don’t want to regret being too busy to connect with the people I love. And valuing this has led to the single most significant change in my life in the past 18 mths, I would say.

    • That’s so important, Liz. I completely see why “the connected life” is the title and heart of your blog. It’s impossible to be perfect, but the more we connect the more happiness and joy we’ll find in our life and the more we’ll bring this positive qualities to others. I’m so happy you are on that path.

  14. Sandra,
    So much wisdom in one post! I’m happy to share it with my readers. Enjoy more meditation time…
    Christine

  15. Hi Sandra,

    Thank you for this wonderful post! What you say is very true. We often take our time for granted. We are either wasting our time doing useless stuff or else we are not making the time to work for what matters to us.

    In order to live a life without regrets, we need to work on what makes us happy. We have to prioritise our happiness and dreams in place of wasting time. We need to express our love and have time for our relationships. We need to take the time out of our busy life for ourselves.

    I can say that this is a subject which I avoid to think about, but personally I’d regret either procrastinating or not taking the time to do all the things which I love.

    • I’m fully with you, Atiba. I think these are important ways to invest our time and energy. Naturally, we’re inclined to avoid thinking about death, but it can surely help us get our priorities straight! I’m so happy you have this understanding early in your life!

      • That’s right. Thinking of death you are reminded that you don’t have all the time in the world like you assume, and that makes you springs into action instantly!

        I do feel blessed on knowing these aspects of life so early and in being able to reflect on my own thoughts and draw conclusions. On the same time I am aware that there’s so much more for me to learn – things that I can’t even think of right now as they happen to you only when you are a truly mature and responsible adult!

        Thanks for sharing! Have a great day 🙂

  16. I must say I enjoyed reading your post. Let us live our lives with peace and happiness in our hearts to avoid regrets in our future.

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