These Are The Top 5 Biggest Regrets Of The Dying

biggest regrets from dying people

I know, it’s not a nice subject to talk about, but Death becomes us all I’m afraid!

Sometimes I need to talk about it!

When my Mother died some years ago, it was sudden,a massive heart attack aged 64 so we never got to discuss all those things I would discuss now, like I mean, I would discuss everything now if I could.

But there was a recurrent phrase in her life and it was this “I don’t regret a thing”. I was always amazed at this as i’m the sort of person full of regret, from personal life choices to work related decisions, to just about everything really.

So with this in mind again recently, it got me thinking……..about heaven and death and regrets…….


If you were lying on your deathbed, what do you think would be your biggest regret in life?

I’m not talking about right now, but hopefully at the end of a very long, fulfilled, happy life. What will you look back on and think ‘if only I had done that’, ‘I wonder how my life would have been different if hadn’t..’, ‘why, oh why, did I never… ‘. Or, will you have no regrets?

I recently read about an Australian nurse, Bonnie Ware, who spent many years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the final weeks of their lives. As her patients came closer to the end, they would open up about their biggest regrets and the things they wish they’d done differently.

Bonnie found this unique insight into people’s lives fascinating, particularly the clarity and wisdom that people have when they are so close to their own mortality. She wrote a blog about her experiences and insight. Her blog was so popular she went on to write a book published in 2012 called The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying.

As you gather from the title, Bonnie identified five themes that cropped up again and again. What were they? You may be surprised. Do people wish they’d swam with sharks, skydived, do they regret getting married too young/too old, not having children? None of these feature.

The top five regrets in reverse order were:

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier – realising too late that happiness is a choice

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends – looking back and the golden friendships over the years that slipped away

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings – suppressing feelings in order to keep the peace can become a heavy weight on the mind. Too much bitterness and resentment instead of healthy relationships based on honesty

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard – spending too much time making a living and not enough time actually living and enjoying life

… and the biggest regret of all was:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me – going after and fulfilling your own hopes, dreams and aspirations

I find this really interesting because when I read through the list, I realise that I, like many of Bonnie’s patients, could easily end up having similar regrets. The good news is that I have plenty of time to change that, and I intend to do so.

At this moment in my life, two regrets on the top five list jump out at me more than others.

First, ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’. I relate the this whole-heartedly. When I first started my career as a Management Consultant, the long hours and the ‘work hard, play hard’ culture wasn’t a problem. I had no kids, a boyfriend and friends in similar corporate environments, it was hard work but good fun (at times) and depicted the norm of anyone looking to have a successful, well-paid career.

I can understand how people fall into a rut. If the ‘good’ career comes with a healthy pay cheque, it’s not easy to walk away from that, especially when it affects the standard of life you’re used to, and the standard of life you want to bestow upon your family (… but what about next year’s family holiday?!). But at what point do you really need to take a step back and think about where your priorities are and what you could end up regretting?

Bonnie states

“by simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.”


I think this is fascinating insight, that we should proactively make changes to our lifestyle and in doing so opportunities that fit our new lifestyle will present themselves.

As I’ve gotten older and my life circumstances have changed quite considerably, with two young children now in tow, I can no longer work in the way that I used to work. Nor would I want to. The thought of continuing to work such long, and inflexible hours, would mean missing my children grow up. That is one of the reasons why I’ve decided to make a change, and build my own online business. My goal is to work hard (as that’s just in my nature), but in a flexible way, enabling me to enjoy work, enjoy my family, and enjoy life. I am not going to end up regretting working too hard.

Interestingly, Bonnie states that this regret, of working too hard, came from every male patient she cared for. Whilst it wasn’t as prevalent amongst the women, she acknowledges this is largely a generational thing – the ladies she cared for hadn’t worked as much as the men or weren’t breadwinners. A lot has changed since then.

The second top five regret that resonates with me the most is ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me’. This was the most common regret of all, and it relates to how many dreams have gone unfulfilled, and mainly due to choices made to not even chase the dream at all.

This reminds me of a Les Brown quote

“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.”

It’s so important to honour at least some of our dreams, if not all of them. Personally, I would rather fail but know that I gave it my best shot vs having never tried in the first place.

Now, whilst I cover in this post stories of mortality and regrets, I don’t want it to be perceived as negative. Rather, I want to conjure up thoughts of what could be your biggest regret, and how you’re going to make a change in order to address that.

We can start by being clear on what really matters to us, and we should remind ourselves every day. We should ensure that we lead productive lives that are aligned with our priorities and goals. Chase your dreams, and be true to yourself. You won’t care about what others think of you when you’re dying, so why care now? Be honest. Be you. Be happy. No regrets.