If you're on your deathbed, the chances are you'll be reflecting on your life and how well or badly it went. And in many cases, you'll be regretting something or other you didn't do, or didn't do whole-heartedly enough.
An Australian woman* who spent many years looking after dying patients and listening to what they said about their lives has come up with a fascinating list of the five major regrets they mentioned most often.
1) "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
2) "I wish I hadn't worked so hard."
3) "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings."
4) "I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends."
5) "I wish I'd let myself be happier."
How sad that so many people feel their life was a false one and they repressed their real self, hid their feelings and stifled their happiness. We still think far too much about other people's expectations, or imagined expectations, and feel we have to change our own behaviour accordingly. It's very hard to just be yourself, however bizarre or outrageous or inappropriate this might seem to others.
How common too that people wish they hadn't worked so hard and spent more of their time enjoying their own personal pleasures, or doing things with their partners or children. Sometimes this is our own fault, chasing after perfection and unachievable goals. Sometimes it's the nature of the job and long hours are necessary simply to get the work done. But either way, it's not healthy.
And how difficult it can be to stay in touch with friends when we're all leading such busy lives. When we're rushing from one urgent task to another, friendships can easily be neglected for so long they lapse altogether. Then a few years down the line we discover all those bosom buddies we used to have such fun with have somehow vanished. And our psychological well-being suffers.
What a shame we don't take a good look at what we're getting out of life while there's still time to do things better. Once you're on your deathbed and heading for oblivion, it's too late.
* Bronnie Ware is a writer and singer/songwriter from New South Wales.