You’ve probably heard, “Begin with the end in mind” as one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A student recently suggested to me that we should consider the end: death. More than the cliche that you never heard someone say on a deathbed, “I wish I had spent more time at the office,” here are the top five regrets of the dying as shared by a palliative care nurse — with my comments and suggestions.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier
The phrasing is particularly interesting to me. What if we consider that allowing ourselves is a key component to experience more joy in life. Having just spent the weekend leading a training for Certified Laughter Yoga Leaders, it’s as clear as ever to me that joy, laughter, and kindness are our natural state. If we get out of our own way and stop suppressing ourselves, we will likely be happier. People reported that they pretended to themselves and others, but deep within, “they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
When I read this one, it reminded me of my pledge in January to make this “the year of deepening” that included connecting more deeply with some of my favorite people who live far away. That thought had gone out of existence and I’ve recently been actively re-connecting with great friends. Everyone, apparently, misses close friends at the end of life.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
We all seem to learn there are “good” and “bad” feelings and it’s only okay to express the good ones. Suppressing feelings seems to be one of the factors that expedites the path to death. I believe we can all do well to express more love, gratitude, & appreciation, and to recognize that what is there to express under our anger or sadness is often hurt. Personally, I find better reception by myself and others of others’ hurt than the assault of anger. My prime directive to myself is to connect with my heart before my mouth is in gear.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
This comes as no surprise, yet is it one about which we nod our heads while continuing to toil too many evenings and weekends? What are you going to do about it? Pledge to stay aay from e-mail after hours and during weekends? More diligently scheduling time for ourselves and for fun and recreation? People reported missing out on their children’s youth and their partners’ companionship. Let’s make sure we balance our work with play and family connection, so we don’t have this regret.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
The most common regret of all is about selling out on our dreams and failing to follow our calling. If you are reading this, I’ll bet you are among the fortunate who has at least some sense of your purpose/vision/path/calling. So it’s a matter of degree. How much of your energy is in line with your greatest passion? What percentage of your time are you making the best and most true use of yourself? Stepping more deeply and fully into your own truth may be the greatest move toward peace and satisfaction at the end of your life.

What’s your greatest regret so far, and what will you now achieve or change before you die?

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