Do you know what’s sad? It isn’t growing old or even that we die. What’s depressing is to find ourselves old and lying on our deathbeds wishing we had lived our lives differently.
Too often, we find ourselves mired in society’s expectations for us, chasing goals that have little or nothing to do with meaningful accomplishment or lasting happiness. We promise ourselves we’ll change, we’ll put first the things that matter most… someday.
But what typically happens is that someday never comes. And there we are, our lives behind us, and we have nothing to show for but regret.
Well, damn. Let’s do that something about that before it’s too late. Okay?
Here are 15 of the things older people regret having never done or not done enough…
1. Doing what we love
So many people are stuck in jobs they hate. I was once one of them, too. And it’s a difficult rut to break free from.
Society tells us to chase the job that pays the most, to stick with it, to work our asses off, and to retire when we’re too old to enjoy the things we should have been enjoying in our youth.
2. Knowing who we are
Easier said than done, I know. To know one’s self has been a central question of Western philosophy since… well, since forever. But while we’ll never be handed a user’s manual to our lives, we can come closer to knowing who we are.
Look past what consumerism tells you what you need to buy in order to feel fulfilled. Look past what society expects of you, past the peer pressures to conform. And instead, look within.
3. Prioritizing our values
One sure way to grow closer to yourself is by identifying the things, ideas, and experiences you value most.
Not only does this give you a better understanding of the kind of person you are, but it also helps you to avoid the things that really don’t matter and to pursue the things that do.
4. Pushing ourselves
It’s just simple science that we humans – most of us, anyway – will usually take the easy way out of nearly any situation. Why? Because we don’t like to be uncomfortable. Even if being uncomfortable means we’ll be rewarded later, we often prefer being comfortable now.
But not pushing ourselves is probably responsible for more regrets later in life than other single things on this list – if we don’t push ourselves, we’ll never even do many of those other things.
5. Living in the moment
Life – especially contemporary life – is an incessant barrage of responsibilities and distractions competing with one another for our attention. It’s such a problem that we rarely take the time to stop and experience life at the moment.
What happens when we aren’t living in the moment is that life seems to fleet past us – another year, five years, a decade… and we’re left wondering where the time went.
6. Daring greatly
We’ve all heard that lined from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the one about how a coward dies a thousand deaths while “the valiant taste of death but once.” This resonates with us because we know it in our hearts to be true.
And yet so many of us cower from taking the risks that could lead to happier lives.
What if I failed?
It’s our thinking that’s the problem. We might, in fact, fail tremendously, but our regrets for having never tried will weigh more heavily on us later in life.
7. Learning a second language
This one’s interesting. Why is it about second languages that fascinates us so much, or that we do regret having never learned?
Maybe it’s the promise of connecting with people of different cultures and acquiring new experiences. Maybe it’s the promise of expanding our worldviews by thinking outside the boundaries of our native language?
I don’t know. But with so many resources available to learning new languages today, we really haven’t any excuses for not following through.
8. Expanding our worldviews
Yes, since I brought it up in the last point, we might as well focus on it here… experiencing new cultures, expanding our minds to think beyond black and white terms, reading more enlightening books, seeking advice from those who have been there and done that, traveling the world.
Those are all things many of us will regret having never done in our youth.
9. Giving back
Years ago, I read a passage in a book that changed my life – I think it was written by Stephen Covey, but I don’t remember which book. Anyway, to paraphrase, it goes like this…
Imagine you’re attending your own funeral, and that you get to decide the three people who will give eulogies. Now, what do you hope they say?
Chances are, you want them to talk about how great of a person you were, about the positive impact you had on their lives, and how the world is a better place for you having lived in it a while.
There’s only one way to earn an honest eulogy of that kind, and that’s by giving back, by helping others realize their goals… quite simply, by just being a good and charitable person.
10. Taking a stand for ourselves
But putting others’ needs ahead of our own now and again doesn’t mean we have to be a spineless schmuck. Think about it – helping others isn’t charity if it’s happening because you’re being taken advantage of.
Lying on our deathbeds and wondering what might have been if we’d only stood up for ourselves… well, what kind of a life was that?
11. Showing vulnerability
At the other end of the spectrum of fears is our unwillingness to open ourselves to others. We’re afraid that putting our emotions on the table only exposes them danger.
What if I say ‘I love you’ but they don’t feel the same way? What if I share my feelings and they don’t take them seriously?
Sure, we might find our feelings hurt now and again – that is life. But it’s better, much better to have told someone how we really felt than to grow old and wish that we had.
12. Practicing forgiveness
Grudges are emotional cancer. I really don’t think there’s a better way to say it. And that’s probably why every religious text from around the world tells its followers to the same thing about resentment – forgive your enemies.
13. Spending more time with the people we care about
You’ve probably heard this one, too – nobody ever got old and wished they’d spent more time at work (unless they jobless, maybe). No. Instead, people grow old and wish they’d spent more time away from work and with the people they cared about.
14. Being selective in relationships
This is a big one, a really big one. I’m sure you know at least one person who is in a terrible relationship (maybe it’s you), and their lives are miserable. You might also know someone in an abusive relationship – their significant other physically or verbally attack them, or their circle of friends is destructive.
Yet these people remain in these relationships because it’s all they know, or they would rather be miserable than be alone. Everyone one of them, though, will regret having squandered their lives.
15. Taking care of our bodies
And finally… all of us would like to delay that whole deathbed scenario for as long as we can. Right?
Take care of your body. Exercise, eat responsibly, wear sunscreen… and enjoy living life to its fullest for as long as you can.