What really matters? This question can seem really complicated when you are immersed in the day-to-day responsibilities of life. But when you are faced with the reality of the end of life, things can become quite clear.
In her article, and subsequently in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware reveals the things that were at the forefront of her patients’ minds as they were preparing for their last moments on earth.
What her patients told her can help us get a better picture of how we should be living our lives now. So what do we make of our lives, of this present moment? And what decisions do we make to focus on what truly matters?
Here are the top five regrets that her patients mentioned, with some thoughts on what we can do right now to ensure that these are regrets that we do not share when we come to that point in our lives.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not what others expect of me.
Ouch. This one stings a little, doesn’t it? So often we get caught up in pleasing everyone around us, and we forget what makes us feel truly alive.
It takes simplifying our lives to see who we really want to be. It’s difficult to see through the clutter, but once you get there, you must take that first brave step and be true to who you are.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
We strive, we climb, we burn the candle at both ends, and being productive and recognized gives us a sense of worth, but in the end, it’s our relationships with those we love that matter most.
How can you simplify your schedule to make time for the most important people in your life? So often it is in the most mundane and unproductive moments that we make the most precious memories.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
When we are bogged down with life, our emotions are the first things we neglect. We don’t pay attention to what they are telling us, and we are reluctant to express them to others for fear of rejection or shame.
Quieting our minds and our environments can create space for our emotions to truly surface, giving us an opportunity to understand them, and express them in ways that are helpful and healing.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
It can be so easy to unwittingly neglect the relationships in our lives at the sake of our busyness. Reaching out to friends takes an extra effort, one that may seem like just one more thing on the to-do list in a day filled with responsibilities.
But when we make this a priority, it has the opposite effect- it fills us up instead of draining us. Who are those people that you truly care about, that you haven’t spoken to in some time?
Make an effort to reach out, beyond their most recent Facebook update. See how they are doing, and spend some time in conversation if you can.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
One of the most difficult things to learn is that happiness is a choice. Circumstances are very rarely going to be perfect enough to allow us to be happy at all times, but we can choose joy in the moment, and be grateful for the beautiful and meaningful things in our lives.
So often we can get caught up in the seriousness of life, and forget how much happiness can come from simply letting loose and being silly once in a while. Our inner child wants to be heard, we just have to listen and be comfortable enough to let our guard down.
Simplifying your life is about focusing on what really matters. When you choose what is important to you and focus on it, you gain a sense of clarity and trust that allows you to live with less regrets.
How can you begin today to simplify? It doesn’t have to be a major undertaking — it can be one small act. It can be a moment of quiet where you slow down long enough to hear what your heart is telling you.
It can be a choice to make more time, today, for someone you love. It can be a decision to remove something from your life that is no longer bringing you joy. It can be one word: a “yes”, or a “no.”
I hope you are encouraged to live to the fullest. We all have a finite amount of time, but what we do with it is the most powerful choice we will ever make.