Biggest Regrets In Life: What Will You Regret On Your Deathbed?

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We all have regrets: negative emotions that make us feel bad and or sad about a personal choice as we imagine some alternative outcome, usually a better one if we had only done something differently. Here are some examples of life’s biggest regrets as well as some deathbed regrets. What can you learn from your regrets?

My Biggest Regret in Life is…

We all have regrets!

Regrets are negative emotions that make us feel bad or sad about a personal choice as we imagine some alternative outcome, usually a better one, if we had only done something differently.

Regrets are complicated because although they make us feel bad, they can also have a positive effect and teach us life lessons to live by. 

If I knew then what I know now, I would have…

One of my biggest regret in life that taught me an important lesson to live by happened when I was 21 years old.

My father was struck by a car fleeing the scene of a crime in front of the local grocery store, leaving my then 14-year-old brother and me orphans.

deathbed regrets newspaper clipping from my dad's death

I was supposed to wake up and walk with my father that morning, but I had stayed out late with friends the night before and was too tired, so I stayed in bed.

Even though his death was not my fault, I’ve always regretted not waking up and taking that walk with him. Not just because I might have been able to change my father’s fate and prevented him from standing in front of that car but because I regretted not spending more time with him when I had the chance.

But I didn’t realize this regret until after he died.

I have other regrets, such as majoring in Economics instead of graphic art or not continuing to play the violin.

Still, those regrets are different because I can do something about them going forward. Although I can’t bring my father back from the dead, I learned something valuable from his death and by working through my regret.

I need to be more present and spend more time with the people I care about now instead of regretting not having done so after they’re gone. 

Lucille Ball quote about regrets

People most regret the things they didn’t do rather than the things they did do. 

There have been countless studies done about regret.

This study looked at the kinds of regrets we have and found 72 percent of people feel regret related to their ideal selves: not becoming the person we feel we could have become if we had only tried.

In other words, the things we regret most are the things we didn’t do rather than the things we did do.

Examples Of The things we most regret

According to a meta-study that looked at the results of several studies, the areas of life that produce the greatest potential for regret fall into the following categories. ! 

Deathbed regrets by category

Here are some examples for each category of regret. 

Education

  • “Probably the most important piece of advice that I’ve ever gotten is to develop your mind. I left school very young, and I always regretted it.” -Stephanie Seymour.
  • I wish I had gotten a different degree. 
  • I wish I didn’t quit school.

Career

  • I wish I had chosen a career that I enjoyed rather than one that was practical.
  • I regret not changing careers.

Romance

  • I wish I hadn’t broken up with my true love. 
  • I wish I had put more effort into my marriage/relationship.
  • I regret having an affair.
  • I wish I had left my abusive relationship sooner.

Parenting

  • I wish I were a better father or mother, sister or brother.
  • I wish I had spent more time with my children.
  • I regret not having children.

Self

  • I wish I had lived my life the way I wanted instead of how my parents wanted me to live it. 
  • I wish I had gotten help sooner.
  • I regret holding on to grudges.

Leisure

  • I regret not travelling more.
  • I wish I had taken more vacations.
  • I wish I had learned to play the piano, violin, guitar or some other instrument. 
  • I regret not learning a second language.
  • I wish I had been more adventurous.

Finance

  • I wish I hadn’t focussed so much on making money. 
  • I wish I had saved more money.
  • I regret not investing in Apple stock.

Family

  • “I’ve always regretted that I never was able to talk openly with my parents, especially with my father. I’ve heard and read so many things about my family that I can no longer believe anything; every relative I question has a completely different story from the last.” -David Bowie.
  • I wish I had appreciated my parents more.
  • I wish I told the people I care about how

Health

  • I wish I quit smoking sooner.
  • I wish I took better care of my health and my body.

Friends

  • I wish I had stayed in contact with my friends.
  • I wish I had made more of an effort to make friends.

Spirituality

  • “I believed that doing what the other person wanted was love. I did that, and for more than a thousand years, I have regretted it. I don’t want to repeat the same mistake.”- Kim Dong-Joo.
  • I regret not being more present.
  • I wish I were a better person. 

Community.

  • I wish I stood up more for other people or causes.

Deathbed regret: Top 5 Biggest Regrets Of The Dying

 “The most dangerous risk of all-the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” – Randy Komisar

Sometimes we don’t realize our regrets until it’s too late and we’re on our deathbeds. 

Bonnie Ware is a former nurse who spent a lot of time talking with her dying patients.  She noticed many of them shared the same deathbed regrets and shared her findings in a 2009 blog post that went viral. It was titled “Regrets of the Dying.” 

She also wrote a book on regrets. 

I’ve paraphrased the top five regrets according to Bonnie’s patients, but for the most part, most felt regret over NOT having done something rather than having done something. 

1) I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Bonnie says this was the most common regret.  It’s easy to look back and see how many unfulfilled dreams you have at the end of your life.

I can’t stress to you how important It is to honour or try to honour some of your dreams.

2) I wish I didn’t work so hard.

Many male patients regretted spending so much of their lives on the corporate treadmill, which caused them to miss their children’s youth or neglect their relationships with their partners and loved ones.

3) I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings to keep the peace or to spare other people’s feelings. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became or expressed who they really were.

You can’t control how other people will react to you speaking more honestly, but you will at least have shown your true self and either raise the relationship to a new level or rid yourself of unhealthy relationships.

4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Many of Bonnie’s patients were so caught up in their own lives that they neglected friendships and eventually lost contact over the years, only to find themselves regretting this on their deathbed.

Keep building your friendships and seek out new friends regularly.

5) I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Many people settle for the life they have rather than the life they want.

If only these people had given themselves permission to pursue their dreams or a version of their dreams rather than sacrificing their happiness and enduring a life they were not completely happy with.

Paulo live your life to the fullest now not later

Don’t Waste Your Time and Energy Regretting Your Past.

 Finding a reason not to do something is so much easier than finding a reason to do it.

  • Stop thinking about what might have been and look at what can be.  Accept them and grow from them. 
  • Live for today: You never know what the future holds for you, so live your life to its fullest, and if you have kids, teach them the same with your actions, not just your words.
  • Be Happy! You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to live your life in such a way that brings you happiness and joy. It would have killed me to know that my father regretted not doing something because he felt guilty or sacrificed for me. It brings me joy to know that he led a happy and fulfilled life.
  • Don’t let the fear of failure stop you! Imagine what could be if you tried!
  • We can’t always live our dreams to a “T,” but we can do our best trying to at least live some version of it. 

You might be interested in reading this book

Karl Pillemer of Cornell University interviewed over 1000 people and shared their stories and wisdom they learned about love, life, and finding happiness.

He shared his findings in his book “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans” by asking them:

“If you look back over the course of your life, what are the most important lessons you learned that you would like to share with younger people?”

Sharing is caring

 

Biggest regrets in life


  1. Hey Annie,

    I’m sorry to hear that you lost your dad that way. When things could have been avoided like that, it makes me sad. It’s terrible that things like that have to happen.

    You know I’ve read those five deathbed regrets before. I can’t remember where I saw them though. More people need to see those regrets so they can be shown just exactly what it is that is important in life. No one ever dies wishing they had spent more time in the office or earned more money. it’s about friends, family and living the life that you want.

    I love your message: live life now! you don’t know what will happen tomorrow.

    Steve

  2. Ain’t that the truth! I can happily say that I won’t be regretting any of those top five, I’ve done a lot of the things that I needed to do and, like you, I’m continuing to do them with my family. I just don’t want to shuffle off, leave my beautiful kids and stop having fun, the world is an incredible place!
    Just do it, we never know how many tomorrows we have left ( bit depressing , isn’t it!)

  3. Hi Annie,

    I’m so sorry to hear that you lost your dad in such circumstances. Those robbers robbed more than money that day, I hope they were caught and had the book thrown at them.

    What regrets would I have? Ummm number 3 on your list hit me straight between the eyes. I nearly always bite my tongue when i should say what i think. My wife often points it out to me as my brothers and sister are exactly the same. We never confront each other as we should and allow things to build up until we explode.

    I have told her that I’ll work on that and I’m trying to do so…. I’m just waiting for an incident to pop up ;)

    Like many others I’d like to travel and see other parts of the world, there are so many beautiful places to see and I’d like to take time out and see them.

    Unfortunately that’s beyond my reach at the moment, but I keep dreaming and trying to aim for it by building a business online that’ll give me the freedom.

    My number one goal, that I strive to achieve, is to be able to buy a bungalow for us all to live in. That will then give us the freedom to live where we want to live and not where we’re told to live (social housing).

    Here in the UK we have some fantastic spots that I could see myself living in and being able to buy a property there to experience the beauty of those areas is what I’m aiming for.

    That’ll be my biggest regret I think, but I am trying to get there :)

    Thanks Annie
    Barry

    1. Barry,
      I know exactly what you mean about holding your tongue until you blow. I struggle with that too not wanting to come off as a big complainer or nagger. It’s hard to find that balance so i hear you.
      I understand what you mean about travel not being in your reach. Heck, it may not even be your number one goal to achieve. For a long time i wanted a nice house next to the San Francisco bay and we got it for a while. Then we moved on. I think as long as you keep striving to achieve your dreams rather than letting them die a slow death you’re on the right track.
      ps
      Thanks for stopping by. Love the conversation you bring.

  4. This is such a powerful reminder to take action NOW and quit deferring our dreams. Such a sad story about your father. How difficult for you and your brother!

    I guess it’s all of these experiences, the heartbreaking and the joyful, that shape us into who we are today – and in your case you’ve seized the day and going after your own dream! Such an inspiration for us all. Thank you for sharing your story with us!

    1. Hello Sarah,
      I am so glad that you think this story will inspire people to take action now rather than deferring our dreams. That was my hope.

      I know a lot of us our pre-programmed from a young age to defer until later especially such big dreams as long term travel. We think we need to defer until our kids our gone from the nest. Even though i had traveled extensively as a young child I had been programmed to believe this too since i spent so much time living amoungst people who believed this. But in the end, it just took me believing in being my authentic self to achieve my dream. If more people would “just go for it” they might also feel this huge burden being lifted from their shoulders too.

  5. This was the part that jumped out at me: “But my biggest dream was to pass on the gift and my love of travel to my children. I can’t explain it, it just is what it is.”

    That’s our passion, too – not scrapbooking or sports or collecting things (not that those passions aren’t okay) – but travel. We’re hoping to be able to do a reboot sometime in the future – and taking smaller trips in the meanwhile. :)

    1. Hello Shannon,
      the wanderlust travel bug is a hard one to explain to some people. I am learning that some people never want to travel or absolutely hate to travel. It has to do with not being comfortable being uncomfortable… I think….

      Because when you travel, you have to deal with the unknown. Like do you tip or not, is it ok to shake hands, how to communicate without speaking the other language etc. I love this aspect of travelling, the challenge and the newness of it all. But it does take practice and many people who do not understand this also don’t understand why i would want to subject my children to this. Which to me sounds odd.. But i digress.

      So i totaly get that you don’t want to scrapbook and would rather travel. The heart wants what the heart wants. I have no doubt if you want to travel to re-boot that you will make it happen. If i can do it, anyone can do it. It just takes time, persistence and perseverance.
      Let me know if i can help you out in any way.

  6. Wow Annie, a deep post indeed! I guess I will regret not traveling the world, unless I do something about it and take a career break, Career? lol. You will be the first person I come to when I do it promise!

    This post really does make you reflect on life and how much it has to offer. I know we have to be realistic (or is that drilled into us) in what we do and how we do it, but I guess I’m good with 3, 4 and 5. Just what to do about 1 and 2 :-)

    A truly awesome post Annie, thank you for making me think about death :-D Seriously this is very cool! I’m going out to have fun now lol.

    Dan

    1. Dan,
      I hear what you are saying about having the idea that we need to be “realistic” as you put it. When I first had kids I had this dream to continue travelling and had hoped to do it through work but that never happened so decided I would make it happen.

      As far as taking a career break to travel. well, i may be travelling and living abroad but I still work my butt off. I’m not loaded I just have chosen to travel while i run a business. As far as @2 go?es well, I know you work hard but from what i know about you, you are there with your family even if though you work hard. As far as #1 goes, well baby steps i guess. That’s how i’m approaching it.

  7. Hi Annie,

    Very sorry to hear about your father. It reminded me of something that happened to a friend of my family.

    When I was 20 two of my parents went to see a movie. They stopped at an ATM to grab some cash and a man put a gun against the head of the husband and told him to give him the money.

    He didn’t fight, just handed over $40 bucks but the robber shot him in the head anyway.

    It made his wife into a widow and his two daughters grew up without a father.

    I want to say that pushed me to do more but it really didn’t. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I really began making serious effort to live the life I want to live.

    There have been compromises along the way but that is always going to happen. I am happy to say I am actively working on doing the things that will let me live my dreams and not dream my life.

    1. Josh,
      I completely understand what you mean when you said that it did not immediately push you to make more conscious choices to live everyday to the fullest. Even for myself it wasn’t immediately obvious what to do with the experience of the death of my father. I wish it had too. In the end something happened to trigger you to start making serious efforts to live the life you want to live rather than just letting life happen. It’s a lot harder than it seems, i’ll have to admitt but with practice it gets easier.
      Oh, and about compromises, well that’s just life right?

  8. Annie – This is a wonderful post and I agree that we never realize and live the moment. Instead, we keep regretting and thinking of what we are not able to achieve.

    If we take one day at a time and live it out to the fullest, we can avoid all these “deathbed regrets” hopefully.

    1. Agreed Praveen, if we take one day at a time and really think about how we can live it to the fullest than we will avoid a lot of death bed regrets. The trick is to not let lifes little emergencies and daily routine make you forget to do it. I still have problems remembering this and have to be conscious of it everyday.

  9. wow, i think this is the best article I’ve read from you yet. :) so real.. and sorry about your father.

    despite getting out of the rat race and living my life in SE Asia, which is part of my dream and intuition, i still struggle with points #1 and #3. But I like how you mention that it’s ok not to live your dream to a T, as long as it’s a version of it and you take the steps in that direction. That’s so true because our expectations may not live up to reality… and that’s ok.

    My mom used to work at a retirement home and she would take me there sometimes as a child. One of the patients that really stood out to me and I still remember was named Mary Parrot. She was probably the first to instill a bit of travel bug in me. She hared all these slides of her when she was younger traveling to Egypt and all these other places. It really seemed she lived a full life of no regrets! So I equated travel to ‘living without regrets’ :)

    1. Janet,
      that is so interesting how that this small moment of time with Mary parrot made such an impact on you.
      I bet you always had the travel bug in you or the need to explore new places and Mary just brought out what was already in you.

      Thanks for sharing Janet. I really enjoy your point of view and your stories.

  10. Annie, You hit reality here. Sorry about the loss of your dad and how it happened.
    I grew up in a large extended family. I was so used to see people dying young and old as I grew up.
    I lost two of my friends at a very young age and this made me realize death can come at any time.
    I always thought about the last moments of life. What would it be like? Would I have regrets? Would I be content?
    I have given this much thought throughout my life and came to the conclusion that all the “stuff” that we are occupied with really doesn’t matter in the end.
    What really matters is love. How much love did I spread while spending time on this earth?
    Have I given enough? Have I been selfish to the point of working too hard? Not taking those precious moments for my family and friends to give them the time they needed? Have I held back on expressing how much I loved them?
    Those are the regrets I would have. So knowing this, I do shut the computer down and the phone too. I do make time for my family and friends, without guilt.
    But most of all, with those brief encounters of the strangers I happen to meet. Those chance opportunities to give a little smile to a person that seems lonely, to give time to my community.

    Bottom line, If I have the mindset to give of myself, I know I will have no regrets.

    Thanks for this inspirational post,
    Donna

    1. Donna,

      You really have a great perspective. Especially when you say
      “stuff” that we are occupied with really does not matter in the end.What really matters is love. How much love did I spread while spending time on this earth.”

      Most of this know this but never really think about what matters in the end until something happens or we’ve experienced somethign to force us to realize that what we think is important now does not matter in the end.
      And i agree, smiling at someone who seems lonely even someone passing on the street can cause them to return the brightest smile you’ve ever seen. Thanks for sharing. As usual you bring so much to the conversation.

  11. Wow!

    I have tingles… reading those first few lines.

    So touched by your story and the courage to share this tragedy. I hope the pain and truth will help people wake up and realize…

    Today is all we have. :)

  12. Hi Annie – great post!

    #5 stood out to me – people wishing they’d let themselves be happier.

    This is a biggie! And so tough! I feel that a lot of times people just go through life doing what others or society expected of them. School, job, mortgage, etc.

    I know now from experience that happiness is so closely tied to active decision making. When you step back and think about your life and what you truly want, often what we think is so important (car, house, etc) really isn’t.

    Being happy is about being intentional.

    Anyway, thanks for the reminders!

    1. You are so right Sean. Happiness takes intentional thinking and actions. It took me along time to figure that out. It’s a hard thing to grasp unless you’ve experienced it’s power. I know you and yours are all about intentional actions with your upcoming voyage to ??????

      Thanks for sharing.

  13. Hey Annie

    Gosh, I was really sorry to hear about your dad. That must have been such a difficult time and life lesson.

    The thing that resonates with me in your post is #2 – I wish I didn’t have to work so hard.

    When my son was born, my wife and I considered me giving up work to look after him. I even went as far as handing my notice in to my employer.

    But they persuaded me to stay. Something along the lines of you’ll regret giving up work, financially, as a man, and many other arguments. I guess I just wasn’t ready then.

    Roll forward 2 years, I was still in my job working long hours, as was my wife. The kids were in nursery and none of us were enjoying the experience.

    Then, we decided enough was enough and nearly 12 months ago I gave up work to look after my daughter. And you know what? I have no regrets about doing it.

    Thank you for such a wonderful post!

    1. Oh Tim,
      I’m so glad you shared that.

      Isn’t it so typical for people to share their desires or wants: in your case to hand in your notice so you can stay home with the daughter, only to get talked out of it?
      I know it probably took a lot of courage to go against the grain but in the end, it’s great that you are able to spend time with your daughter at home and be at peace with it. “no regrets”. You took a chance and in the end 20 years from now you will have lots of memories instead of just memories of trudging in the office.

      Bravo!

  14. That intro was powerful. Sorry to hear your dad had to go like that.

    Every time I come to your blog it looks better and better. :)

  15. Excellent post Annie,

    Well, I can so relate… my father died in a car crash 5 minutes from the house at age 34. I was 5 and my brother 2. So I learned early on that your life can be cut short and you need to do what YOU want to do.

    So, basically that’s what I did my whole life. when I decided to move to the US I made that decision about 2 months before I hopped on that plane that brought me to New York. The rest is history ;)

    Thank you for this great post!

    1. Oh my goodness. 34 is so so young. I didn’t know that your move to the US was so spontaneous. You have quite a sorted past between painting, acting, immigrating to the us, internet marketer. Truly inspiring Sylviane.. thanks for sharing.

  16. Hi Annie,

    I knew your Dad had passed away when you were young but now I know how. My heart breaks for you knowing that he tried to help someone but that robber didn’t have an ounce of passion for a man’s life. I know how it is to know you’ll never have another day with him. I miss my Dad terribly.

    As you know though, having grown up with a Dad that had cancer since I was 2-1/2, I learned to appreciate every ounce of life. Whenever I was having a bad day my Dad would remind me that I could be laying up in a hospital bed dying of cancer so suck it up and get over it. It’s just not that bad and boy was he right.

    I heard something a couple years ago myself about people on their death bed and for the most part, they regretted how they thought at the time things were more important then relationships. We want our loved ones around us at the end of our life, you can’t take things wit us.

    But having those experiences and doing what you want now, today, that’s what’s important. I hear ya and boy do I agree.

    Your blog is the gathering place for people who want to travel abroad and have those experiences. Thank you for reminding us all of this Annie. Live your life with no regrets.

    ~Adrienne

    1. Adrienne,
      Isn’t it amazing how death and illness can effect us both positively and negatively at the same time.

      The important thing is you learned a valuable lesson from knowing your dad had cancer from such a young age. It’s probably the reason why you are such a positive and up beat person.

      It really shines through in your writing and even when we chatted over skype. :) I love that about you.

  17. Sorry to hear about you Dad Annie.

    I guess I can well relate to such losses having lost my Mom to cancer a few years back. I guess certain things are just destined and meant to be.

    However, I do agree that life is to be lived to it’s fullest and with NO regrets whatsoever. Thus, we need to make it a beautiful one by living in the moment, living it in the NOW, which I know you do too. I love the way you travel and move with your family and that’s a great way.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. Harleena,
      Sorry to hear about the loss of your MUM too. I’m sure her death has moved you in so many ways.

      And You said it so well. “Live in the moment”.

  18. Wow, Annie. Thanks for sharing that–it makes your plea to live now even stronger!

    I love how you pointed out: “we can’t always live our dream to a “T” but we can at least live some version of it.”

    I think this is so important to consider. Yes, it may be a bit tricky (or impossible) for some people in their current life plan to drop everything and go traveling for a month (because their other dream is to have all of that security of a home and routine, schools, etc)…but they CAN bring their dreams to reality is a different form!

    1. It’s a hard thing to articulate isn’t it. I think so many of us feel guilty for wanting to pursue our dreams. But what really motivated me was how It comforted me to know that my dad lived his life to the fullest when he was alive. He didn’t wait. I knew at that moment that I didn’t want my children to feel sorry for me when i died.
      Plus, travel is something that brings us closer as a family. It really really does..

      tricky as it is to try to pursue opposing goals, it can be done to some degree.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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