The 5 Biggest Regrets of the Dying

It’s a great time to be alive, isn’t it? We can get almost anything we want at our doorstep in two days (with free shipping!), there are millions of hours of entertainment available to watch (on a device that can fit in our pocket!), and we can connect with people across the globe. At the end of the day though, these are all distractions and the certainty of death reminds us of what we truly value.

I came across a blog post from palliative nurse Bronnie Ware, in which she documented the biggest regrets patients have in their final moments. In the top five most common regrets, what struck me was how little being wealthy would have made a difference. After all, death is the ultimate equalizer! So many times we associate money or materialist things with happiness and a fulfilling life, but time and time again, we are reminded what a lie that is! Without further ado, here are the top 5 most common regrets of the dying:

1. Not Being True to Myself

The biggest regret was the realization that most of our life was spent fulfilling other people’s expectations of us, not our own. How many of us have put our dreams on hold until the “time is right?” Crack open that bucket list and take a look at what are some dreams you CAN fulfill? Time and health are a precious commodity, so don’t wait until it’s too late! I’m not saying you should embrace the YOLO mentality (that will be a separate blog post!), but take inventory of the things that make you happy; most of our happiness comes from experiences, not possessions. So go scratch off some of your bucket-list experiences!

2. Working Too Hard

Bronnie writes in her blog that every male patient she nursed had this regret. It is so engrained in men to be breadwinners and to provide for their family that they miss out on their children growing up or companionship with their partner. This struck extremely close to home for me, as one of the biggest reasons I decided to start my own firm was to make sure I didn’t have this regret.

My father is one of the hardest working people I know, and he worked incredibly hard to provide for his family. It is because of his hard work and dedication that I am where I am today. This also meant being away from home constantly. I remember him being gone many weekends or not coming home until past 8 PM regularly. I am sure he feels like he missed out on much of me and my sister’s childhood, especially when I watch the joy he has when he plays with his grandkids.

Bronnie writes, “By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do.” This echoes my earlier point about happiness: where does most of of it come from? Don’t work so hard so you can afford a lifestyle that is ultimately going to be unfulfilling. Without realizing it, we are robbing ourselves of great memories with our children, loved ones, etc.

3. The Courage to Express My Feelings

How many of us have left a conversation and later thought, “Oh, there was so much more I wanted to say!” We often don’t speak up out of our desire to “keep the peace,” but this often leads to us carrying bitterness or resentment. When we can TRULY be transparent and honest with those around us, it enriches those relationships. We usually bottle up the things we want to say until it boils over and we end up saying something we regret, or we don’t say anything at all.

One of my best friends throughout college ended up being my roommate. We were terrible roommates, and I harbored a lot of my feelings. Things finally boiled over, and I lashed out at him. We ended up not speaking to each other for a few years, but we eventually reconciled and he credits that moment as a great wake-up call for him. Fortunately, things turned out great and we’re best friends to this day.

4. Not Staying in Touch With Friends

It seems in the age of social media, staying in touch with friends should be easier, but the opposite may be true. Even though we can keep “in touch” with more people in our past than ever before, it doesn’t mean we are truly connecting with people in a meaningful way. It’s easy to look through our social media “friends” list and see hundreds of names that we might feel like we want to connect with. TRUE friendships are rare and valuable though; spend time to truly engage and connect with the people you really want to have in your life.

At the end of our life, we want to make sure all of our affairs are in order. Why? It’s not for our benefit, but for the ones we love. As Bronnie puts it, “That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.”

5. Wish I Had Let Myself Be Happier

Happiness is a choice. Bronnie writes a common regret is realizing this fact too late. When I watch my children play and be joyful, I am envious of their silliness. The older we get, the more we conform to what society believes we should look like and shed our inner child. On my deathbed, I doubt I will be worrying about what others think of me. Deep within, I believe all of us have a longing to be able to be silly and goof, to laugh like a child. How wonderful and freeing it would be for us to let go of the image society tells us we “should be!”

As a financial planner, a lot of people approach me when they feel like they need help investing money. While it is true this is a service I provide, I don’t believe this is the most valuable service I offer. Money is a tool, and one we have given a little too much weight in our toolbelt. My job as a financial planner is to help lift that weight, and align money with your values. My job is the most fulfilling when I am able to help a client find happiness and joy outside of possessions. This may seem outside the realm of financial planning, but through the financial planning process, I dig into core values. Unfortunately for most of us, our checkbook isn’t aligned with our values! Here’s the shameless plug: If you need help making sure your finances are more in line with your values, I am here to help!

As I read through this list, I was reminded of the Mastercard commercial. You know the one: “Priceless.” Align your life with your true values. Choose to be happy. Don’t live your life with regret.