The Top 5 Regrets of The Dying

And what you can do to live differently

  • Justin Zoradi
The Top 5 Regrets of The Dying

Originally reported by Susie Steiner from The Guardian

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. As many of her patients approached their final days, she would ask if they had regrets or things they would do differently.

Ware was so surprised by the phenomenal clarity of vision people gained at the end of their lives that she began documenting their responses.

The Top 5 Regrets of The Dying
(And what you can do to live differently)
Click to Tweet

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

"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

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

"Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."

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

"Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

"This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."

1. 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. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it."

This list hit me like a ton of bricks. I hope it did the same for you.

It’s remarkable how small things that don’t actually matter can dominate our days. They seem so innocent at first. A few extra hours in the office. Forgetting to call our friends back. Bottling up our emotions. Choosing a job you don't enjoy for higher pay.

These small decisions, while completely rational, slowly but surely pull us away from the things that matter most.

I’d like you to do two things for me:

1. In the comment section below, write out what on this list hit you hardest. Then write the one thing you’re going to do to change it. Be specific. You’ll see mine at the top of the comment section.

2. Go tell someone so they can keep you accountable. Tell your spouse, children, roommate, or best friend about the thing you’re going to do to ensure you live your life without any of these five regrets.

Go ahead. Call someone. Send a quick email, text, or Facebook message and tell someone you love how he or she can help you.

I look forward to seeing your responses.

- JZ

Photo Credit: Rosie O'Beirne Creative Commons

Susie Steiner, The Guardian
Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

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Comments (46)

  • Justin Zoradi

    Justin Zoradi

    10 December 2012 at 21:33 |
    1. "I wish that I had let myself be happier."

    I feel so privileged to do the work that I do. But so often, I forget the joy that comes with it. The organization I founded, These Numbers Have Faces, are adding dozens of new students into our programs next year and will kick off 1 maybe 2 new programs in Africa in 2013. I need to do a better job of celebrating these things. It's incredible!!!

    But I get bogged down in the small tasks. The unending quest for funding, staffing complications, messaging, measuring impact, vision, etc.

    What I need to do, at least once a week, is sit with our staff and celebrate what God is doing. Find JOY in the incredible results of our work. I need to force myself to stop and live in a place of happiness.

    Secondly, I asked my wife yesterday to keep me accountable with this. To ask me each day, something great that happened and ensure that I celebrate it.

    2. "I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends."

    I've been convicted to have more friends over to our house. So many of our great friends we haven't invited over. That's ridiculous. My wife and I are strategizing on better ways to do this.

    - Justin
  • Larry J Rutledge

    Larry J Rutledge

    11 December 2012 at 00:42 |
    All five of these regrets hit me hard, but the one that made me audibly gasp was:

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

    To tell my story would take far more time than I'd want to write in this small comment box. Suffice to say that a large portion of my life has been lived out of trying to fulfill what I thought others expected of me. And it has led to some extremely hard things in my life, not just because of dreams left undone, but because the pursuit of things not a part of who God created me to be led to destruction.

    I have come, far too late in my life, to a place where I am beginning to understand this principle. I wish I could go back and tell my young self what I have come to understand about it.

    Let me try to tell someone else, hopefully save them many years of heartache ...

    You are you! God created you to be the person you feel you are and that you dream of being. People have many reasons for putting on you what they see for you. Some are out of love and care, some are out of selfishness or personal lack, some for any number of other reasons. But they don't know you the way you know you, and even more importantly they don't know you the way God knows you. Be the person God is calling you to be. If you want to live a life someone else expects of you, live the life God expects of you.

    In some ways I have already been making steps toward changing this, one of which is starting a writing project God has asked me to do, a blog. And for the accountability, well a blog is pretty public and people know I am writing it and some of them know why and they encourage me to continue.

    It's not always easy, but I want to reach the end of my life and feel that it has made a difference. The world should be a little better because we have lived in it!

    Thanks for the challenge Justin .. a timely kick-in-the-pants!
  • Justin Zoradi

    Justin Zoradi

    11 December 2012 at 04:36 |
    Thanks Larry! Appreciate your comments as usual.

    Good stuff on the writing project. That is the thing that plays a small role in you living your life and not the life of someone else. Well done sir.
  • Dave


    11 December 2012 at 14:39 |
    #2 is painfully true for me.
    I need to take some time to think about how I can change it. It's a pretty deep rooted issue. And our culture promotes overworking and demonizes underworking. So maybe I'll have to go find a good book about now working so much (and try to actually enjoy the book instead of speed reading!)

    And my good friend Austin can help keep me accountable!
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      11 December 2012 at 19:40 |
      Thanks for sharing Dave. Overworking is really really challenging. And you're right, our culture rewards it.

      A book I'd suggest is "Ordering Your Private World" by Gordon McDonald. I'm 1/2 way through it right now. Spectacular stuff.

      Check it out:
  • Grayson Pope

    Grayson Pope

    11 December 2012 at 16:23 |
    Number 3: I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

    I find it very hard to verbalize my feelings and let someone truly know my thoughts. I think I tell myself they don't care or I'm worried I might be wrong.

    But in the end, I usually feel guilty.

    I'm going to start intentionally saying things when I feel compelled to do so. Not blurting them out, but relaying my feelings in a measured way so I don't feel I've let another opportunity to relate pass me by.

    Awesome, awesome post Justin.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      11 December 2012 at 19:41 |
      Thanks for your boldness Grayson. Such a tough one.

      yes, relay your feelings in a measured way to people you trust. Let me know how it goes.
  • Jesse Mojica

    Jesse Mojica

    11 December 2012 at 18:10 |
    Upon recently losing an incredible friend quite suddenly, this is pretty much all I've been thinking about. So thank you, conversations like this help with the processing.

    1. I wish I stayed in better contact with my friends.

    In the days of instant communication at all times I have zero idea why I don't talk to some of my friends for weeks or months at a time. This past weekend at Zach's memorial I saw friends, that I spent so many years with growing up with, for the first time in a decade. Maybe that's life, but it doesn't feel right.
    I wish I'd called Zach back at the end of September instead of texting him or when I was thinking about him every day after getting home in November...Now I have to wait a long time to see him again and tell him about Haiti and all the other things we won't share together. This past two weeks tied in with the time warp of this weekend has convicted me to call and get together with people who I love - I have time for them that is not being utilized. It's time to change that.

    2. I wish I would have had the courage to express my true feelings.

    This one is difficult right now. I think maybe I pride myself too much in expecting people to know that I love them and am grateful beyond words for them. And maybe the people in my life do know that... but when someone leaves your life and you never took the actual time to express just how much you cared for them. When you don't take the time to thank them for helping you through the tough times, or even thanking the men and women who sacrifice their dreams and desires to serve our country... it sure leaves you wondering if they did know.
    So now, I'm calling, texting, messaging people every day telling them. Because words like that shouldn't go unspoken.

    I might believe in life eternal - but that doesn't mean I shouldn't live to the very best of my ability here.

    Thanks for the post - and it would be nice to see your house! :) I vote brunch. Love to you and your beautiful wife!
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      11 December 2012 at 19:44 |
      Thanks Jesse for sharing your heart here. So sorry about Zach.

      I loved that you wrote this: "I might believe in life eternal - but that doesn't mean I shouldn't live to the very best of my ability here."

      Honestly, people don't always know how you feel unless you tell them. So start doing it.

      Thanks for reading. Looking forward to hanging out soon

  • Thomas Mason

    Thomas Mason

    11 December 2012 at 18:37 |
    1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

    I feel trapped in my circumstances so much so that I lack the courage to try something new or different. The result is unhappiness. I'm resolving to starting the new year differently than I will end this year.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      11 December 2012 at 19:45 |
      Great stuff Thomas. I'm excited for you. 2013 is your year. I believe it. Keep me updated.
  • Lane Hoffbeck

    Lane Hoffbeck

    11 December 2012 at 19:47 |
    Awesome post once again Justin.

    "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

    This is something that hits home to me. So many times I find myself going through the day trying to make sure that I am getting all the tasks done that others are expecting from me. There is a balance of course, but I think this goes hand in hand with "I wish I would have been happier." When I feel like I should be doing something, whether it is work or a task for someone, I find myself feeling guilty. I need to live happier and not afraid of everything I need to do or have the feeling that I should be accomplishing.

    Thanks Justin
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      11 December 2012 at 19:54 |
      Thanks for sharing Lane. You can see why this regret was the most popular one of all.

      Really appreciate you reading and your awesome work with Incandesce.
  • Joan Hoffbeck

    Joan Hoffbeck

    11 December 2012 at 23:38 |
    When I look back at my life I wish that I would have let myself be happier. I wish that I had taken each day as a gift and truly lived in the moment. It is too easy to always be looking ahead to "someday" and miss what is happening before your eyes. I want to learn from my first 50 years and celebrate my next 50 years. May the words of my mouth speak out of the abundance of my heart..... and may I see JOY in each day!

    In this new year I am going to enter a happy thought, idea, action, or experience from each day in my journal.

    thank you !
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      11 December 2012 at 23:44 |
      Awesome Joan. That is my wish as well. A tough one. Let's make 2013 about letting ourselves be happier.
  • Lucas Reding

    Lucas Reding

    12 December 2012 at 01:02 |
    Wow wow wow. That was an uplifting brick to the face! I needed to hear this. I have been thinking of these very things for a while now, then I happen to stumble upon this! Wow!

    The two that hit me the hardest were expressing my feelings better and letting myself be happier. Recently I have found myself resisting to be happy, resisting the urge to let loose and laugh and giggle at whatever my mind is telling me not to but my heart is bubbling with the merriment of it. Ahh the longing to be a child again and being happy for no reason at all! Oh how I miss it and long to return.

    Also, I have noticed myself shying out of conversations and not sharing my point of view with my fellow students (college kid here). I find it difficult to talk about my views and opinions with classmates and after every failed attempt I feel guilty for being for not doing so...
    How can I be influential in this world without stepping out first?

    This are the things on my to do list for the near year!

    Also, thanks for the awesome read!
    • Lucas Reding

      Lucas Reding

      12 December 2012 at 01:05 |
      Also I just read over my comment for the first time and realized the importance of re-reading something before submitting it.
      • Justin Zoradi

        Justin Zoradi

        12 December 2012 at 04:36 |
        Lucas. So happy to provide an 'uplifting brick to the face'! hahaha Thanks for that.

        You've hit the nail on the head man. Being happy like a child for no reason at all. I want those days back too. Remember being in 5th grade man? For me it was soccer and street fighter II. That's it. Glorious.

        But on a serious note, start practicing sharing your opinions with others. Start small and with people you trust. But become the type of person that others come to for your opinions. It's a good place to be. Keep me updated.
  • Jinny


    12 December 2012 at 02:56 |
    1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Sometimes cultural upbringing, friends, and family expectations blind us from living the life true to ourselves. Growing up in a culture where traditionally, parents dictate how they want their children to grow-up, expectations on how you live your life is partly influenced by this ideology. Only recently have I realized that living a life true to myself also fulfills true happiness which leads me to my second choice: I wish that I had let myself be happier..... Every day that I live, I not only try but live a happier life. Being true to myself allows me to disavow certain old habits, extravagances, worry about little things of no importance, and to truly see the world as it should be. Peace to all and compassion to every living being. Thanks Justin for sharing this eye-opening article. Uncle Jinny.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      12 December 2012 at 04:40 |
      Thanks Uncle Eugene. Really appreciate you reading and commenting.

      The cultural stuff is so challenging around issues of life and career choices. It's great to hear you are working through this.

      And yes, letting yourself be happier. My struggle too. Something to work for in 2013
  • Laura


    12 December 2012 at 03:09 |
    4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

    "Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."

    My best friend and I are slowly growing apart, we're slow to return each other's calls and we don't have as many adventures as we used to. This one drove home that I don't want to let that happen. We've always been close for a reason, and I know I'll miss her desperately if I let time and distance eat away at our friendship.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      12 December 2012 at 04:43 |
      I can relate Laura. For sure.

      One suggestion. Write out your friends names and put it somewhere where you are forced to see it. Wall of your room, fridge, office, etc.

      It'll be a reminder just to send a quick text even. And then, schedule time to chat. like it's a work meeting. Schedule Tues at 4pm. You'll miss each other every time if you try to call back and forth.

      Become a professional at keeping up with your friends.
  • Jason Eiting

    Jason Eiting

    12 December 2012 at 03:49 |
    Right now I am currently living the life of the working dad. I am more than likely missing out on my kids childhoods. Thankfully they are still young and I have time to make some changes should god allow me to carry on.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      12 December 2012 at 04:44 |
      Thanks for sharing Jason. I hope you can make some of those changes.
  • Susan Biggers

    Susan Biggers

    12 December 2012 at 03:53 |
    Number 4! I have been blessed with wonderful friends and family and I really want to make an effort to spend more time with them. Like a lot of people I work 7 days a week and there never seems to be enough time. Then all of the sudden you look around and weeks and months have gone by. I have the most amazing 79 year old mother that love to be with. 2013 is going to be devoted to family and friends and quality time.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      12 December 2012 at 04:44 |
      Great news Susan. Happy to hear that. Make it happen.

      Thanks so much for reading and responding.
  • Justin Dernison

    Justin Dernison

    12 December 2012 at 07:00 |
    Number two really resonates with me. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. I recently heard it said that "nobody on their death bed wishes they had spent more time at the office." I find this to be almost laughably true.

    As come ever closer to fatherhood I find myself in that ever present juxtaposition of wanting to provide for my family and being present for them as well. How do I do both?

    I want to create lasting experiences that I can share with my wife and child. I want to have memories that I can look back on and be proud of as a father, and a husband. I want my vocation to be a part of this.

    Just yesterday I went home sick from work for the first time in over two years. I had been feeling down for over a week but was just sucking it up, putting my head down, and moving forward. When I got home my wife gave me some cough medicine and put me to bed. I slept for 4 or 5 hours, got up did some studying, and went back to bed. I woke up this morning feeling rejuvenated. This was a reminder that I need to take care of myself in order to be at my best for others.

    Work/Life balance is real and vital. I will talk to my wife about how we can plan together how to ensure we spend the time together now that will be so important to us later on.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      13 December 2012 at 04:54 |
      Thanks Justin. Appreciate you sharing man.

      Yes. Such a great lesson. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Dead on man. Excited to hang soon.
  • Doug Patterson

    Doug Patterson

    12 December 2012 at 15:58 |
    You have a lot of nerve Justin. Not only do you write a blog and expect me to read it, but then to have action steps that follow. The audacity! I expect to become better just by reading your blogs. I never actually intended to do anything differently...then you go and write something like this.

    You punched me in the stomach right out of the gate with numbers 4 and 5. For me, letting myself be happy and staying in touch with my friends are inextricably combined. I am a naturally social person, and I get energized from spending time with good friends. I have shared these thoughts with my wife and together we are going to focus on spending time together doing life-giving activities.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      13 December 2012 at 04:57 |
      Yes Douglas. Good reminder that we need to hang out.

      Interesting that you linked 4 and 5. I like that. Glad you talked to Court about how to do this better.

      What we decided we want to do is have friends over one Sunday a month for dinner to better stay linked with people we care about.
  • Jacqui Mae Barnett

    Jacqui Mae Barnett

    12 December 2012 at 17:17 |
    "1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

    I have been blessed with some of the most incredible people who are in my life as friends and family. So beautiful. It's not that I need their opinions as part of my identity, it's that I respect their opinions and their viewpoints. Problem is, there's just too many voices. I want to be better at making decisions by never failing to ask myself what it is I desire to do, and staying aware of God and anything He may be leading me to do.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      13 December 2012 at 04:58 |
      Thanks Jacqui! Appreciate you sharing and reading.
  • Dave Campbell

    Dave Campbell

    12 December 2012 at 19:08 |
    1. To let myself be happier. I am guilty of not doing this enough. I am always hard on myself and I think that is because of my past and decisions I made along with a few regrets. I try not to dwell on it, but it is difficult sometimes. Although, I live a wonderful life I just never take time to see it. I am able to rock climb, ride my bike, skateboard, play music, summit peaks and bag canyons, and live in an awesome desert town, but I have a hard time staying in the moment. I want to be able to slow down and appreciate my free time and my job.

    My mind is my own worst enemy and sometimes I feel that if I have fun or am happy I don't deserve it because I could be working on something else to make my life better. I also walk a hardline on chasing a dream and the reality that my dream isn't the easy to live long term with. It is a trade off and often I forget that.

    Overall, next year my goal is to realize how good things I have. I am 30 with no debt, my health, able to climb, work hard, ride my bike daily, learn new things, and push the limits.

    2. Keeping in touch with old friends. I need to better at this and make the effort. I have friends from college that were family and then one day the communication just stopped. I think about them everyday and miss their laughs, hanging out, and just having that support. I live in Las Vegas now and have a few good friends, but life here is much different than Chico, CA. It is hard to meet quality people who are really invested in your life. However, the friends that I do have I am blessed.

    My friend Paul is the only person I met so far that has a drive to push the limits in the outdoors like me. I have been climbing with him for 2 years and we make a solid team. Our progression as a team is something that I forget to slow down and look at. We have come along way and climbed some amazing routes. I forget to realize if it wasn't for him I wouldn't be doing as much as I have done in the last two years.

    My next year goal is to use regular mail to contact those old friends, because I think there is something very unique about hand written letters.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      13 December 2012 at 05:22 |
      Hey Dave

      I loved that you wrote this:

      "My goal is to realize how good things I have. I am 30 with no debt, my health, able to climb, work hard, ride my bike daily, learn new things, and push the limits."

      That's it man. Do that. Don't forget it. Write it out on a piece of paper and post it somewhere.

      And yes, handwritten letters are a great idea

  • Dave Arnold

    Dave Arnold

    13 December 2012 at 04:30 |
    The one regret that hit me the most was #1, being true to yourself.
    For years I'd tried living out a script I thought others wanted me to live out.
    There was so much pressure for me to conform. My wife has helped more than anyone with being who I'm created to be. This post was a reminder, though, to keep at it and not turn back. Thanks!
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      13 December 2012 at 05:23 |
      Thanks Dave! No doubt you embody someone who has fought through this.

      Appreciate you reading.
  • Tierney


    13 December 2012 at 08:35 |
    Gosh, there's a regret that's not on this list: not loving Jesus the way I should. If I served Christ and really enjoyed my relationship with Him, none of these other regrets would exist because I would be reaping the full benefits of a joyful life with my Savior. Rejoice in Him and everything else will just fall into place! He is so good and I too often take advantage of that fact and get caught up in DUMB things in life.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      13 December 2012 at 22:19 |
      Thanks Teirney!
      • Justin Zoradi

        Justin Zoradi

        13 December 2012 at 22:19 |
        Oops. I meant Tierney. Sorry.
  • Marcie


    13 December 2012 at 14:30 |
    I agree with Tierney. I make Jesus my number one priority and all those important things flow easily from there. I am not saying I never "get caught up in dumb things" but when I do, Jesus always leads me back to him. PRAISE THE LORD!
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      13 December 2012 at 22:20 |
      Thanks Marcie!
  • Tim Lim

    Tim Lim

    13 December 2012 at 17:56 |
    I hope that I come across this list every now and then to remind myself not to get trapped in any of these pitfalls; it's so easy to become like everybody else and live in ways you know you'll regret. Thanks for this!
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      13 December 2012 at 22:20 |
      Thanks for reading Tim!
  • Taylor


    13 December 2012 at 20:53 |
    Reading number three sank a heavy weight in my stomach. For years, I've put of a smile in order to mask the true emotions of pain and sadness that I've felt at different points in my journey. I always thought it would be easier for myself, and others, if everything in my life seemed "fine," or better yet, "perfect."

    Looking at my life, it's obvious that it's not perfect. No one's life is. God has given each of us a story that He began to weave before we were even in our mother's womb. Allowing myself to feel the emotions that come with this life He has planned for me is part of letting myself be the beautiful daughter God created me to be.

    If something causes my heart to ache, I'm going to cry. If something makes me want to scream in anguish, I'm going to call out to Him. I can't keep locking my heart away from the rest of the world, and from God, most importantly. Telling myself to 'just be happy' is a diservice to everyone, myself and our Creator.

    I'm going to change by starting to answer with only "feeling words" when someone asks, "how are you?" Good is not a feeling. Okay is not a feeling. Nor is bad, or so-so. Even if it isn't natural for me to respond with true answers, I'm going to do it. Because my feelings are more important than that fake smile.

    Thanks, Justin, for the inspiration!
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      13 December 2012 at 22:22 |
      Thanks Taylor.

      I liked this "Good is not a feeling. Okay is not a feeling." You're right. Stick to that.

      Thanks for reading.
  • Haley Cho

    Haley Cho

    20 January 2013 at 02:14 |
    For me, frankly speaking, the proper amount of those sections is matter. How much could i allow happiness to myself? How many times should I try to contact with friends? the people who are talking about well-being say, the most importance is 'balance'. But life doesn't come into ours balanced, right? For me, setting priorities is the most difficult to do.... and at the moment that we desperately need Him, He tends to be silence.... or actually I might couldn't hear him. Saying 'be yourself' is easier than done. I really wish wish wish 'Maranata', but I have to live here, on the earth, not in the heaven.. Often so frustrating.

    But anyway, talking about those kinds of subjects means that we are already rich I guess.. Thanks for posting!

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