The six years I spent working in hospice care were some of the most profound and meaningful of my life. I sat at the bedsides of dying men and women as they tried to make peace with their time spent on this earth. Although each person’s life story was unique, certain disappointments were expressed time and time again. These nine regrets expressed by hospice patients can teach us how to start living a better life today:
1. They wish they had been more loving to the people who matter the most.
Many people expressed sorrow for not having been more understanding, caring, and present for the people who were important to them. They wished they had the courage to say “I love you” more often.
Take a few moments to write a letter or make a phone call to someone you love and let them know how much you care. It will mean the world to them, and it’ll make you feel pretty great too.
2. They wish they had been a better spouse, parent, or child.
The people I worked with often regretted taking their families for granted. After all, once they got terminally ill, it was their families who stuck by them to hold their hand, provide love and companionship, and care for them around the clock.
Even if your family is not perfect, they’re probably the ones who are there for you when you need them. Remember to express gratitude for them daily.
3. They wish they had not spent so much time working.
Many had worked long, hard hours, and they regretted missing the important moments in their kids’ lives. I remember one such person—a salesman whose boss expected him to travel three weeks each month when he had a young daughter at home. Although he was an excellent provider for her, he never got to know her well. As she became older, he tried to form a relationship with her, but it was too late to make up for lost time. He never fully forgave himself for choosing time at work over time with her.
Remember that you have choices when it comes to your job. Choose a company that values a healthy work-life balance. It’s OK to respectfully decline additional assignments that would require you to work beyond your assigned hours. Your job is important, but there are other things in life that are just as important.
4. They wish they had taken more risks.
Many felt that a fear of failure caused them to play it too safe. They knew that they could have had richer, more fulfilling lives had they taken some risks and disturbed the status quo.
Consider making a list of everything you have ever wanted to experience in life. Then start crossing them off one by one and watch your happiness (and your comfort zone) expand dramatically.
5. They wish they had been happier and enjoyed life more.
Most people regretted the time they wasted worrying about things beyond their control. They didn’t realize they were capable of choosing fun and happiness until it was too late.
Spend a few minutes every day doing something that you love and that brings you joy.
6. They wish they had lived their dream.
Many people’s lifelong dreams went unfulfilled because they were too concerned with trying to live up to someone else’s expectations.
You are the only one who knows what’s best for you. Allow yourself to be open to endless possibilities. When envisioning your dream, remember the mantra, “this or something even better.”
7. They wish they had taken better care of themselves.
Most patients thought that if they’d eaten better, slept more, and paid more attention to their health and well-being, they might not have gotten sick. They wished they had made self-care more of a priority.
Make time to go on a nature walk, take a nap, or meditate each and every day.
8. They wish they had done more for others.
I heard countless wishes from people who dreamed of making a difference through kindness, compassion, and acts of service. Many patients made the decision—oftentimes right from their hospice beds—to donate their money to charities and service organizations so they could positively affect the lives of others after they were gone.
Pick a cause that is special to you and consider donating a bit of your time or money to help someone in need.
9. They wish they had chosen more meaningful work.
Many expressed that they had never enjoyed their job but had stuck with it year after year to pay the bills. They wished instead that they had chosen work that was in line with their purpose and passions—work that they were excited about and gave them a sense of fulfillment.
Take some time to get crystal clear on what you are passionate about. You can then begin looking for work that speaks to these passions.