Philosophy and science are helpful when it comes to understanding happiness but we can also learn from the wisdom of humans that have spent decades on the planet, experienced many things and are coming face-to-face with their own death.
This book starts at the end. Ultimately it all comes down to this. Unless you die suddenly, there will inevitably be a day when you come face to face with your regrets. A day when the most important things that you regret doing and not doing in your life will be revealed with gut wrenching clarity. A moment of truth where putting a positive spin on the situation will not be an option. There is no question about the fact that you will have regrets. The question is whether they will be regrets you can live with – or die with. The question is, what are you going to do between now and when (you think you will) die that will minimize the sadness and hopelessness that you will feel in that inevitable moment when your life, as it really was, is revealed to you and you realize that you should have done something differently?
Bronnie Ware worked with dying people and decided to write the book “the top five regrets of the dying”. These are the most common regrets of people that are literally on their deathbed. I “strongly” urge you to stop and think about each one carefully. Think about how they apply to your life. Also, think about how they apply to your friends and family and the consequences that you can see in their lives. Think about the undercurrent of pain that you and people close to you are already experiencing as a result of these regrets.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
If reading these regrets (especially number one and number two) doesn’t feel like getting wacked in the head with a baseball bat of reality, I don’t know what will. The purpose of listing these actual regrets from actual dying people is to reveal the magnitude of what is on the line here – this could be you.
Having regrets is not a problem – if you feel like you did your best. If you did your best then you have the ability to say “that’s life” and move on. If, on the other hand, you feel that you did not do your best then you have a problem. The good news is that it is a problem that can be avoided or mitigated. However, rather than focus on how to avoid regrets, a more positive approach is focusing on what you actually want and let “regret avoidance” take care of itself along the way. So, what do you have to do to live a happy life with minimal regrets?
In simple terms…
You need a little pleasure that comes from doing things for the sake of enjoyment and no other reason. You need a sense of fulfillment that comes from living life on your own terms and being the person you want to be. You need a sense of connection and that comes from nurturing (having a positive impact on) nature / humanity/the ultimate system.
We want to feel like our life matters and it matters when we do something that positively impacts the people around us or nature. You know that your life matters when somebody is grateful for something that you did for them – and you receive your well-earned dose of happiness.
Next articles in this series: “Nature – An Introduction”