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7 Most Common Regrets People Have When They Look Back On Their Lives

7 Most Common Regrets People Have When They Look Back On Their Lives

It’s one of the biggest ironies in life, that many of us live our lives doings things we don’t really want to do, and neglecting things that are truly important to us, and only finally at the ends of our lives, look back and admit we wish we’d done it differently.

It isn’t a big surprise to most people, that on our deathbeds, most of us regret things like not spending enough time with family, or working too much and not having enough fun. We are, as educated adults, aware, even if we are living a life outwardly that makes it seem otherwise, that the most important things in life are family, love, health, and happiness.

Yet, even though we possess enough common sense to know this, many of us are unable to let go of the pursuit of things that often take us farther and farther away from what is truly important, and what we should value the most. Money, professional ‘success’ or promotions, buying more stuff, driving nicer cars, dressing in nicer clothes, filling up our 401ks – these things make us feel like we are accomplishing something during our lives. They allow us to say (if silently) ‘look at me, I’m successful! I’m responsible. I’m smart.’

Yet, while we pursue these things, we miss out on so many others. Like nieces and nephews birthday parties, time with our siblings, family holidays, vacations, intimate relationships.

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Many of us now even spend a couple of decades working and casually dating (like so many of us 20s-30s who live in cities), instead of allowing ourselves to love (like we want to) because we are so addicted to just ‘putting the time in’ until we can fill our bank accounts with enough to make us feel safe, or get that next promotion so we can tell ourselves ‘we’ve made it’ far enough before we can allow ourselves to consider falling in love.

Soon, our work, our career, our goals become our identity and we can’t remember what it was like to relax and go spend a spontaneous weekend with family, or chat for hours on the phone with our mom, or to be in a real and meaningful relationship. We stop getting invitations to friend and family gatherings because people stop expecting there to be any chance of our showing up.

In order to remind ourselves what we should already be reminding ourselves of every day (what is important to us), let’s take a look at a list of the most common regrets people have when looking back on their lives:

1. Not having the courage to be true to ourselves

Most people regret not living a life more true to themselves, but instead feeling obligated to fulfill spoken or unspoken obligations to family, society, etc. They wish they had had more courage to do the things they wanted, instead of the things they felt they should do.

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2. Remaining in an unfulfilling job or career instead of taking a risk and pursuing something we were passionate about

This sort of goes along with #1, but specifically has to do with where we choose to spend most of our lives. Since most of us work more than 40 hours a week and get only about 2 weeks of vacation per year, our careers and jobs are a HUGE part of our lives. If we spend the majority of our time doing something that we don’t like and that doesn’t fulfill us or challenge us, we are cheating ourselves out of what could be a much more meaningful life.

Let go of the image you want to present to the world (with your perfect job or title) and think about what you’d really be willing to do, if you could wake up every day excited about your job. Take a paycut? Live in a smaller house, or move out of the city? Give up the designer clothes and expensive lattes every day? What’s the value of feeling like your life has meaning and being happier?

3. Not spending more time with family

We all know that family should be the most important thing in our lives, so why do so many of us take it for granted until it’s too late? Say no to working late this week and eat dinner with your family. If you’re not married, call a sibling or your parents and see what they’re up to. If they live far away, schedule a Skype conversation. Look for airfare deals and plan an impromptu weekend home. Go fishing with your dad. Whatever. Just do it now instead of waiting until ‘one day’.

Our parents are going to leave this earth sooner than we are which means we don’t have the luxury of waiting until we’ve retired to finally spend time with them. Siblings and offspring are around longer, sure, but they are only young for so long. Soon they’ll have their own families and like the Neil Young (Old Man) song, they might have as little time for you as you had for them when they wanted you around.

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4. Not expressing our true feelings more

Not expressing our true feeling is something most of us regret during our lives, but even more so when we are closer to our deaths. Knowing that the regret is only going to get worse over the years, why not start making an effort now to tell those who are important to you how much they mean to you? Or telling someone you care about, that might not know it, how you feel? The worst outcome can’t be as bad as regretting what you didn’t do, on your death bed

5. Not keeping in touch with old friends

It’s tough keeping in touch with old friends sometimes. Especially if you live or work in different cities, states, or countries. Or if you’ve outgrown each other in some ways, or just have completely different lives. We might think we’ll always have a chance one day to reconnect, or maybe we just don’t think it’s that important because people naturally grow apart.

However, since this is at the top of the list of regrets for most of us at the end of our lives, we can assume that it’s an important one to be aware of. Why not reach out to an old friend via Facebook and just catch up? Plan to have coffee next time you’re in their city or vice versa. Plan a reunion weekend with a group of old friends. What do you have to lose?

6. Working too much/not having enough fun

People seem to really wish they had spent more time having fun, instead of working so many hours, or wasting time fulfilling obligations and doing meaningless things (streaming 50 hours of netflix per week? Probably not going to consider this a great use of time when you’re older). They wish they’d spent more time doing things that made them truly happy/gave them joy.

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Hugged someone lately? Gone to the beach and wiggled your toes in the sand and played all day in the water and the sun? Taken a class on something you’ve always wanted to learn to do? Danced? Laughed? Let the wind and the smell of the forest invigorate you while you hike, run, or bike alone in nature? Every minute spent being happy is good for our health, and these moments are those that we will remember fondly. Why not make as many of them as possible?

7. Not traveling enough/Not taking enough vacations

This is big for us in America, as we just don’t have a lot of vacation time, and we have a culture built around the idea that working harder is better and being seen to work more hours makes you look good to your boss/bosses. But statistics prove that people aren’t more efficient, when they take fewer vacations/work more hours. They are in fact, less efficient. Excessive time working, will only be time you wish you had spent doing something of more personal value.

Figure out how to take more 3 day weekends (even if you have to take unpaid vacation), negotiate more vacation days per year, negotiate work from home days, so you can start your weekends earlier and avoid the ‘who’s still at their desk after 6pm’ game at your office. Set boundaries and stick to them. If your company doesn’t respect your need for a personal life, start working towards getting a new job, with a company that does.

In short: Don’t wait until you’re almost dead to start living.

Featured photo credit: Huy Phan via images.unsplash.com

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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