Recently, I was inspired by the writing of Ms Bronnie Ware, a former palliative care worker who looked after people on their death beds.
Although I’ve never been there, I can well imagine that being on the brink of death must be a truly exceptional experience. In addition to the range of emotions one must go through, our existence is stripped down to its barest form. We become incomparably lucid about what’s important and a real priority in our lives.
Bronnie spoke to dying people about what they would do differently if they could. Of all the regrets mentioned by men and women alike, below are five of the most common.
One- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
How many of us find us ourselves stuck in jobs that we don’t like or relationships we find unfulfilling, because we’re afraid to disappoint other people? Sometimes, the most successful people in the world are the unhappiest, because they’re busy trying to live out somebody else’s perception of what their success should like.
Deep down inside, we all know what makes us happy more than anything in the world, but sometimes we’re afraid to pursue it lest we lose other people’s approval. Don’t be one of the people who lives a life of chronic dissatisfaction because you’re busy trying to please other people.
Regardless of how old we are, we all want to be loved; and so we sometimes train ourselves to develop behaviours that we think will induce positive reactions from others. But remember: people’s perception of you ÔÇô good or bad ÔÇô has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with the way they feel about themselves in that moment.
When other people voice or demonstrate their disapproval of you, they’re fighting an internal battle that has nothing to do with you; you’re simply a convenient target. You’re whole and perfect as you were created; and it doesn’t matter who else believes it; the question is: do you?
Two ÔÇô I wish I didn’t work so hard.
Nobody on their death bed wishes they’d worked harder. Yet how many hours do you spend at your desk trying to convince everyone what a dedicated worker you are? You may pride yourself on being the first person to arrive at the office and the last person to leave, but how happy are you; and what are the effects on the other areas of your life?
Many of us sacrifice romantic relationships, or watching our children grow, to trying to impress other people. We work hard and eliminate fun from our lives to fit in with people who’re really just as confused and misguided as we are. Remember: the success of a life is not measured by its length, or even by how many accolades we accumulate. It’s measured by its joy. When you are joyful, you are truly successful.
Three – I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
When Madonna and Guy Ritchie divorced in 2008, she famously called him “emotionally retarded.” While I can’t speak to what she meant by that, I believe that many of us could probably comfortably fall into that category.
By that, I mean we feel things but are too afraid to express them. We love people but are afraid to even feel the love, because it makes us vulnerable.
When people hurt us or make us angry, we’re also afraid to express our feelings. Instead, we suppress them in the hopes that they’ll go away, but they simply fester and end up making us ill. Or they accumulate until one day, the banks of our carefully constructed dam of feelings bursts, leaving everyone around us to deal with the carnage and aftermath.
We constantly ‘feel,’ because our feelings are a vital part of our lives. When we deny their existence, we stunt our own growth in more ways than we can even imagine.
Become aware of what you’re feeling on a moment-by-moment basis; and trust yourself to express your feelings appropriately. Only you know what’s appropriate in any moment and what is not.
Four – I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
When we get swept up in the business of life, the first thing to go is usually our friendships. Some of us may get married and have children and suddenly our spousal relationship and taking care of our offspring become the only thing we’re interested in. Some of us lose touch with friends because we’re afraid they’ll ‘distract us’ from our work.
Yet friends; and social connections, play a vital part in our lives. Research shows that our greatest happiness comes from our relationships with other people. As human beings, we’re biologically programmed to find other human beings important. We need to belong to social groups, so don’t cut off your connections to other people.
Five – I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Sadly, I know too many people who think that being happy is a luxury. Yet happiness is vital; and it helps us to create everything that we want in life.
What’s more, we chase things in life because we believe that once we have them, we will be happier. That in itself should teach that, our ultimate purpose in life is to be happy.
So what makes you happy? Find out and do it on a regular basis. Your happiness is a choice ÔÇô you are in full control of whether you live a happy life or not.
Avoid these common regrets on your death bed. Have a great week!
*Primrose Oteng is a Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) and the Founder of the ‘Positive Peace Project,’ an organization dedicated to creating positive change through personal empowerment. Join us for a workshop on ‘Positivity Power!’ on 3 March 2012 at Bluetree from 3-5pm. Tickets on sale at the Riverwalk Information Desk; and online at www.webtickets.co.bw