Attending my grandfather’s funeral last week prompted me to delve into the research about regret. And as I researched, I realized regret is a big topic. Everyone experiences regret and no one wants to. So, I decided to keep the theme going. I started to wonder what Grandpa would have said if I had asked him his biggest regrets. I wrote most of this post on the airplane ride home from the funeral. When I returned, I found that Financial Samurai had covered this exact same thing. I recommend his post. In the Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware shares her experiences as an Australian hospice nurse. As she spent time with all of these patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives, she shared their end-of-life thoughts, epiphanies, and regrets. The top five regrets she said people experienced before death were:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
As we learned from the research about regret, the regret experienced in connection with relationships is felt most deeply. Three of the five regrets are about relationships: keeping in touch, expressing feelings, and not worrying about the expectations of others. It’s important to analyze the quality of our relationships periodically. Sometimes we surround ourselves with people that don’t allow us to be true to ourselves. One of my pet peeves about the average work environment is that we end up spending so much of our lives surrounded by a group of people we don’t get to choose. Instead of spending most of our waking hours in the company of friends or family, we spend our best hours with people who hardly know us in most cases. This leads us to live an entirely separate life. I give Mr. T a hard time because he wears glasses at work, but leaves them at the office, so he ends up being someone I totally don’t know when he’s at work. Also, he’s not a man of many words, so his coworkers probably know very little about him.
“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard” and “I wish I had let myself be happier” are perfect bookends to the relationship regrets. No one on their deathbed is probably saying “I really wished I had made more money.” Keeping our finances in order allow us to live the lives we want, but in the last 12 weeks of our lives, I imagine money has very little value. Happiness is also a choice. Sometimes we give up the choice to be happy by choosing to work too hard. One regret leads to another regret. As I learned from my grandfather, it’s important to make your life what you want it to be now. Choose to be happy now. Based on these regrets, I am making a few goals:
- Be more present and happy. Being the planner that I am, I spend so much time planning for and living in the future. This often is at the expense of my children who are here right now. I am going to make a conscious effort to be an example of happiness for them and with them.
- Say no sometimes. Life is full of obligations. And we can’t so no to everything. It’s good to serve and help and work on things, but I sometimes let those obligations get out of control and start applying them to any request. I start thinking any social invitation is an obligation or any opportunity for my child is something we have to do. That’s not true. Sometimes it’s better to be true to ourselves. If I don’t want to do something and it isn’t something that is important, I can say no.
- Maintain a good balance. As early-retirement enthusiasts, we are always hustling or planning side hustles. I don’t plan to stop, but I do need to be better about scheduling it. I need to maintain a good work schedule and a good hustling schedule so I can put my kids and our marriage first. I don’t regret days we choose to go on a family bike ride or the days we go on vacation instead of work. I need to make sure I maintain a good balance between the two so we can focus on being happy now instead of waiting until early retirement.
What are your goals to help decrease future regret?