“When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”
-lyrics from When You’re Smiling, a popular song written in 1928
Bronnie Wrae made a living by comforting people in the last few weeks of their lives. As a palliative care nurse, she cared for patients who had gone home to die. Her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, shares the most common regrets people reveal in their final days.
There are five.
I offer them to you as five secret principles you can start using right now to create more authentic success and happiness. Unfortunately, this kind of clarity comes to so many too late. As you read these regrets, recognize that they are voiced by people who had nothing left to lose which makes their truth that much more impactful.
Regret #1-I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Be true to yourself.
This first regret demonstrates the value of living a life of authenticity over a life of falseness or conformity. Most of us have tried to be what others want us to be, to fit in and not to ruffle too many feathers. Many of us abandon our uniqueness, desires and dreams so that we can follow a prescribed and “safer” path.
I believe we are unique for a reason. We are here to make an individual contribution to the world, our families and friends and the organizations we work in. Each of us has a distinct combination of strengths, insights and skills that I call our “Inner Genius.” When you hide it, you do a disservice to yourself, your loved ones and those you work with and for. My mission is to help people emerge and engage with their Inner Genius to work and live with more fulfillment and reward.
Regret #2- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
Wishing you didn’t work so much is the lament of the person who stayed too late at the office or sacrificed family time for business pursuits. If you find yourself in this position, ask yourself, “why”? Although work is indeed more demanding today than ever before, we also have more tools at our disposal to make it more efficient. Are you making the most of what is available to streamline your work?
Some people may see this as a call to find more meaningful work, take a less demanding position or quit working altogether. I can’t say what’s right for you. My suggestion is that you find ways to make your current job more enjoyable. It’s always worth trying to improve where you are before you decide to throw in the towel. When I find ways to add more enjoyment, I get my work done more quickly and effectively.
Regret #3- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Everyone has feelings. Feelings connect to our beliefs. When things go according to what we believe, our emotions are positive. When they don’t, our emotions turn negative. Sharing our positive and negative feelings in the context of any situation reveals what we believe. We intuitively know this, which is why we may hide our feelings. We’re afraid to express what we feel because it may go against the prevailing beliefs. We risk being ostracized. This fear is real at work and at home.
The truth is, we don’t know the impact of expressing our thoughts and feelings. Our expression could be the very words that get someone out of a slump. Or the impetus for a great new product. They could also spark a thousand unwanted criticisms. If we let unknown outcomes make us afraid, we subject ourselves to insufferable suppression, resentment and bitterness. Choose to be free to express yourself positively and constructively. Let others do the same.
Regret #4-I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
In the end, our relationships are more important than getting our financial affairs in order. While we’re busy striving and succeeding, we can also be mindful of the people we interact with along the way. Whether personal or business relationships, they can all be infused with a level of care and reciprocity. From the drugstore cashier, the company CEO to our spouse, how we relate with people matters. The quality of our lives largely depends on the quality of our relationships.
When you lose your job, suffer a significant personal loss or feel stalled in life, even seemingly insignificant relationships can count. Research from The Health Resources and Services Administration determines that we have a “loneliness epidemic” as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The National Institute for Health Care Management, a non-profit research arm of the health insurance industry, finds that poor social relationships are associated with a 29 percent increase in coronary heart disease risk and a 32 percent rise in stroke risk.
Regret #5- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Happiness is not a result of achieving success or getting our way. Whether we succeed or fail, have our way or not, happiness is our choice. We go through life with the mistaken idea that happiness is the result of something we do correctly, a privileged upbringing or sheer luck. It isn’t. It’s a choice we make moment to moment.
Happiness is ours for the taking right now. Let’s stop waiting for our jobs to give us the satisfaction we want, our careers to be on the right trajectory, our personal lives to be perfectly loving and supporting, our bodies and health to be in peak condition. We can smile and be happy for no other reason than it’s free and offers so many benefits. Recent research reported by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley shows that happiness protects your heart, strengthens your immune system, combats stress, soothes aches and pains and combats disease and disability.
At the end of my life, I want to be different than the patients Bronnie Wrae cared for. I want to believe that I will be satisfied and content having created the authentic success and happiness I wanted.
I have a chance to create that future reality by living these principles and putting them into practice – starting today.
How about you?
- Which principle listed above hits home the most for you?
- What can you change or do differently today to ensure this does not end up being your biggest regret?
- Who in your life needs to hear these five principles? What is the most appropriate way to share them in a positive yet impactful way?
Thanks for reading. Until next week,
Jo-Aynne von Born, Certified Professional Coach
Leadership/Executive development, trainer, speaker
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(reprinted from Authentic Success newsletter. Sign up to receive for free here.)