How to Not Have a Regrets List

Have you ever walked through an elderly care facility? Have you wondered about the lives of those men and women? Wondered what regrets they might have?

Aussie Bronnie Ware worked in palliative care for many years and she did ask.

Five things kept surfacing in her interviews and she shares them in her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Her findings are worth thinking about. I share them here, along with some brief thoughts.

#1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret. Unfulfilled dreams. And once age begins nibbling away at health, those dreams are forever out of reach.

Did Jesus live a life that conformed to the expectations of the people around him? No. Does He expect you to? No. What, oh what, to do? Be a contrarian. Give God your life. Then live it His way.  I mean, really live it His way. It will be the one truest to your real self.

#2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.  Men, as the likely breadwinners, expressed this most often. Hard work and long hours away from family provided well for their loved ones. But time spent with their young children was sacrificed – and could not be reclaimed.

We never strike that perfect balance between work and family. But it’s not perfection we’re after, is it? It’s a quality of peace with the choices we’re making. Prayer for help, prayer for wisdom, prayer without ceasing – and a willingness to make the hard choices – will help insure that there are, ultimately, more right decisions than regretful ones.

#3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.  Keeping the peace can come at a high price. Many of these men and women blamed health problems on the bitterness that festered – sometimes for years – from not speaking up.

This is a tough one. Some of us have suffered from speaking up too much, some from too little. However, it seems that ultimately we err on the side of going-along-to-get-along. The key is this: Whatever is sowing, then nurturing, a seed of bitterness, must be confronted. Bitterness is psychic acid that bleeds into our health. Pray that God will help you not to procrastinate. And that He will give you words that are wise and clear.

#4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.  Their memories revisit us in old age. There were deep regrets for not maintaining friendships.

Facebook is likely making this less of a regret as time goes on. But will we move from tapping on the keyboard to calling or visiting? Hmmm?

#5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. This response was surprisingly common. They wished they had allowed themselves more fun and laughter as the years went by.

This, I think, is the saddest of the five regrets. Why do we spend so much of this short and precious life exchanging gladness for anxiety, delight for fear, laughter for sorrow? Why do we not allow the joy of the Lord to make us strong? And radiant? And full of fun? It is a choice. And each of us gets to choose. What a tragedy to reach the end of life and have this regret.

I have a friend who just turned 90 years old. He recently wrote a paper on aging that includes a manifesto: short, wise and funny. It will appear in my next blog post.

If we pay attention and make the effort, we just might reach the end of life without a list of regrets.

I, for one, would love to.

Which of the things on this list spoke most clearly to you?



7 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks, Deb. I’m moodling this over. xo


  2. I think for me, it’s #1. Sometimes I think I don’t remember how to really let go and “have fun”. I’m always worrying about how it appears to others, what my kids are doing and how they are doing, and don’t ever really abandon myself to what I might consider, “fun”. Also a little bit of #4, but I think I assume I will be in more constant contact with my friends, (outside of facebook), once my kids are older. I look forward to a time where lunch dates and coffee dates with friends are a regular thing. Right now, most of my social expression is through facebook, (which I DO enjoy) and texting. Even a real phone conversation seems to much work for me most days. However, overall I feel like I’m doing pretty good in most of these areas, and I am pleased to say that I doubt I will have too many regrets.


  3. Posted by Erin on August 20, 2012 at 9:42 am

    #3…. Oh Lord, I need help with #3…. And #1. I struggle with what other people think of me. Even though I know I am accepted by God, I fear rejection from others:( working on it.


  4. The challenge is to confront these struggles and fears now, isn’t it?


  5. Posted by Erin on August 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm



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