Review: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
The book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying has been around for a while, but I only started reading it recently, which is surprising considering how close the theme of the book is to my heart and my Life Purpose.
Is it any good?
I not only couldn’t put it down, I recommend it highly to anyone as one of the most life-changing books you will ever read.
There were a few core reasons why I started AA35.
On one hand, it was to helppeople rekindle their dreams and live Full and Happy Lives. In the AA35 scheme, the foundation for that is good health and great relationships, what I’ve chosen to focus on.
On the other hand, I wanted to help good people avoid the flip side of that – looking back at Life in their twilight years, saddened and saddled with REGRET.
You see, I’ve met a lot of people in the last twenty years: in healthcare as a physiotherapist and in my own business consulting and training. What I’ve found is that many people, as they lived each passing year, all shared one commonality: REGRET.
I’ve seen regret at all stages. From the 30s to 50s, it’s regret from not looking after health, and getting diseases like diabetes and heart problems. Regret from abusing bodies and ignoring injuries which became chronic, preventing people from doing even basic things like getting out of bed or picking up their baby without pain.
In the later years, it’s regret from reflecting on Life: choices made, roads taken or not taken.
Ultimately, it all converges on that BIG regret: Of what Life could have been.
And the saddest thing is to finally have that realization, but no longer being able to do anything about it. You can’t get back your health, your relationships, your Life Purpose. That’s what I want to help good people avoid. To recognize early enough that work, business success, power, materialism, sex… is NOT all there is to Life. And instead, forge a Life with purpose and meaning.
So far, I’ve given you ideas how to do that, but we haven’t discussed the regrets themselves. That’s where this book comes in, because it explains them in a very real and illustrative way.
Author Bronnie Ware worked as a palliative care nurse for many years, looking after dying patients, and became keenly aware of their thoughts, feelings, and yes, REGRETS, which she categorized into five common themes.
I Wish I’d Had the Courage To Live A Life True To Myself, Not The Life Others Expected Of Me.
This was the commonest regret. People at Life’s end look back and see all their unfulfilled dreams. Then they realise it was a result of choices they made or didn’t make, often based on what other people, their social circle or society thought, wanted, expected of them.
Bronnie describes a patient named Grace, who’d spent all her life dreaming about breaking free from her dictator husband: travelling and just living a simple happy life. But by the time she was free, she was diagnosed with a terminal, aggressive illness. And once she lost the freedom of mobility, she also lost all her dreams.
People are also influenced by the trappings of success and shaped by the environment. Even happy down-to-earth people can get caught up in the rat race before they know it, so we need to look out for that, and choose the right environment with the right values to live the Life we want.
When I read Grace’s story I really felt it. In my video How to Really Be Authentic, I spoke about not being repressed, and actualizing your fullest potentials. I stressed that learning to say No whether to people’s expectations or to bad relationships, is the biggest step many people can take to start living their own Lives. Go watch that video if you haven’t already.
Another important lesson: once you lose your health, it’s often too late to turn things around. Health grants freedom to fulfil dreams, something people don’t realise until they lose it. Hence the AA35 idea of building a foundation of health, on which to reclaim your dreams and live your Life.
I Wish I Didn’t Work So Hard.
There’s a really sad story of John, a businessman who slaved for years despite his wife’s wish to spend more time together. Finally after 15 years, he relents, but asks for just “one more year”. How many times have you said the same thing to a loved one? Just one more year. Just till this deal is done. Till the end of this project.
But his wife believes him. She makes plans, calls travel agencies, devours brochures. And 8 months into that “one more year”, with both finally looking forward to his real retirement, she’s suddenly diagnosed with a terminal illness, and in the blink of an eye, she’s gone.
So why did John work so hard? Because of the recognition his work and success gave him. Because of the addiction to closing a deal. And as a result of putting off really living Life with his wife, he never got to. Some of his last words to Bronnie were “I wonder why we have to wait until we are dying to work these things out.”
Work and business is of course important. But Life is a dynamic balance, and that balance has to shift from one focus to another. And very often, it doesn’t shift enough to relationships and Life purpose.
Please don’t wait till you’re dying to work this out.
I Wish I’d Had The Courage To Express My Feelings.
Express our feelings when we can. Tell people you love or appreciate them. Because we never know when it’ll be too late.
It takes courage. We can’t control people’s reactions to our honesty. But doing so can raise the relationships to a higher level, or sever those that weren’t healthy or quality in the first place.
I discussed the importance of attracting the right people into your Life in my video on being authentic too.
Here’s a lesson I share with my clients.
On your deathbed, you won’t be thinking about the people who left your Life because they didn’t belong. You’ll be thinking about the people who did. Being authentic means that if someone means something to you, you tell them or show them. Many people are afraid, shy, scared of embarrassment, or backfiring.
Could it become awkward? Yes. Will people laugh at you? Maybe. Might you get a slap in the face? A possibility! But if a girl interests me, I’d rather open my mouth and maybe something amazing could happen, rather than never know what might’ve been. And when it comes to people already in your Life, people like friends and family, go right ahead and tell them how you feel!
I Wish I Had Stayed in Touch With My Friends.
Many assume their friends would always be there. But Life moves and so do people. If you don’t keep in touch, you’ll find yourself at the end with no one who truly knows you. Many people became too focussed on themselves, and didn’t give friendships the time and effort they deserved.
For those who realized it near the end, it was too late. Because some friends were impossible to track down, and others had themselves already passed away.
Giving up friendships to chase things like fame or money is crazy, because in the end you always go back to love and relationships. Even getting financial affairs in order before dying isn’t about the money; it’s to benefit those you leave behind, or at least not to inconvenience them.
Differentiate between true friends you must value, and passing acquaintances of convenience, temporary connection, or even as Bronnie says, shared vices, like smoking pot or alcohol. But true friends who know and accept you are worth the most in the end. Find your balance and make time for them.
I Wish That I Had Let Myself Be Happier.
Many people don’t realise that to a large extent, happiness is a choice. Sure, some people have it hard. But not everyone in the same situation responds the same way.
Some try to find blessings and appreciate moments every day, and focus on positive things like contribution.
Others are too entrenched in their habits and comfort zones. Fear of change keeps them in situations where they pretend they’re happy, instead of doing what they need to actually BE happy.
There are those who don’t think they deserve to be happy.
Yet others allow people’s opinions to define what happiness is, and then chase THAT definition.
Happiness is a big part of the AA35 message. Part of that has to do with actually taking the time out to enjoy the journeys, not just living only for the destinations. One of Bronnie’s patients admitted that in searching for her purpose in life, she forgot to enjoy herself along the way. Exactly what I cautioned against in my How to Find Your Life Purpose video.
Bronnie suggests one way to be happy is keeping a gratitude journal, in which you write what you’re grateful for each day. You’ll realise there’s lots to be grateful for.
So those are the 5 regrets. It’s really uncanny how Bronnie’s findings tally with what I have learnt in the last 20 years, in healthcare and Life in general. From patients, clients, and people I know… It shows these are pretty universal regrets whether you’re in Australia or Singapore.
Now it sounds like potentially depressing book, but it’s not really! Because knowing them gives you a checklist against which to gauge your current trajectory. And being aware of their existence, you can work to mitigate them. For example, using the ideas I share with you on this channel.
I know it can be really hard to visualize this when you’re in your 30s or 40s or 50s. Maybe you read these regrets and you think: Nope, that’s not me! It won’t happen to me! Well actually, unless you’re aware and actively preventing them, you’re probably headed that way. That’s what happened to many of Bronnie’s patients and mine. And keep in mind you don’t know when the end might be. Some people reach it at 80. Others don’t make it past 40.
Bronnie says she was grateful to receive these insights at a young enough age to make changes without having to wait till she was on her deathbed regretting the same things. That’s what I want for you too. I don’t want you reaching the END of your Life, and then regret you never LIVED it. So think about these regrets, and live your Life in a way that will prevent them happening at a time when it’s too late to do anything about it.
And pick up the book!