Major Regrets of the Dying

June 18, 2024

By Mike DuBose

Who among us doesn’t have regrets in life? Haven’t we all travelled down appealing journeys with enthusiasm that unexpectedly turned into tragedies? And, made stupid decisions, experienced tumultuous relationships, or did things that led to bad outcomes which re-play in our minds? In examining your life, are you still haunted by ghosts from your past? Erikson theorized unresolved conflicts trap us in the past and lead to flawed decisions in our relationships and thoughts! Aristotle determined that an unexamined life was not worth living. He emphasized pausing periodically, reviewing our past, learning from our errors, and making positive adjustments. Plato echoed “The good life is only possible for those who don’t fear death and have few regrets.”

I examined the literature on death and common themes people shared in their final days, in addition to reading, “The Five Regrets of the Dying” by Bronnie Ware. I have often asked groups of seniors adults “If you could re-live your life, what would you do differently?” With grimacing facial expressions and teary eyes, many echoed their troubling regretful lives as if it were too late to change. Facing the end of life attracts strong thoughts examining one’s past as discussed below:

  • Made work their top priority and worked too much. Prestigious jobs, high salaries, and feeding egos, can rob valuable time from family and spouses (high cause of divorces). I’ve met many successful individuals who were married to their 80-hour jobs that controlled their lives. Likewise, I was on that endless success merry-go-round for years but realized the dangers before it was too late. According to a recent Harris Poll, about 80% of workers don’t take all their eligible vacation days. Many of my companies’ team members were surprised when they came to work for our businesses. We encouraged a culture of balancing work and personal lives that led to happier, productive staff. Many employers don’t recognize that everyone needs a break to get away from hectic and often stressful workplaces to re-charge. Bill Gates, the Founder of Microsoft, noted in his commencement speech at Harvard University, “Working hard can lead to increased pay or a climb up the corporate ladder, but you shouldn’t do it at the expense of living your life. I learned that lesson too late. When I was your age, I didn’t believe in vacations. I didn’t believe in weekends. I didn’t believe the people I worked with should either.” He didn’t realize the importance of family time until he became a dad. Challenging work is one of the keys to success but it also can be toxic to relationships and a life balance.
  • Didn’t live life doing what they loved and dreams. I counsel everyone to “Follow their passions” when planning their education and careers—not living for others’ expectations. Ware wrote in her book, “Most people had not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to the choices they had made or not made.” Parents have a tremendous impact on their child’s well-being and play significant roles in shaping their future thinking, values, and behaviors. While genetics impact human behavior, Locke determined, children’s minds are like blank tablets where parents and others write their future. Unfortunately, many parents are modeling “making money and chasing success” and pushing their children to follow unrealistic expectations. Research revealed 53% of college graduates aren’t employed in the field they studied. I coached sports for ten years as my children were growing up. It was heartbreaking to hear parents screaming harsh criticisms from sidelines, belittling their children (and referees), as if saying: “You’re a disappointment!” Parents were unknowingly breeding low self-esteems that would follow their children into the future. While attending my grandson’s sports this year, I observed the embarrassing, parent screamers are far worse today! Please remember that children’s activities should be fun and encouraging.
  • Failed to have the courage to express their true feelings. Sharing your views without heated emotions at the right time and place, with carefully-chosen words, is challenging. When criticizing, it’s all in how you say it. While we don’t want to be perceived as aggressive whiners, we owe it to ourselves and others to express ourselves. If we repress our emotions, bitterness and resentment can eat into our happiness causing physical and emotional damages that spreads throughout our lives and others.
  • Avoided building relationships with friends and relatives. While it’s refreshing to occasionally spend time alone, too much social isolation can be damaging. This becomes especially problematic when sitting for extended periods of time watching harmful television talk shows, political views, and one-sided news. These routines can lead to physical problems (elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress hormones, weakened immune systems, cognitive decline, dementia, and mental health disorders (anxiety, depression).
  • Not allowing happiness. It’s a state of well-being—a joyful, meaningful life of contentment with a purpose. But happiness isn’t an ongoing experience. It can be overwhelming, as some researchers noted. Being happy is a choice that takes challenging work, sometimes referred to as “endless struggles.” Many are stuck to old habits and lifestyles. Others avoid taking chances and experiencing new adventures.

Seneca noted “Our regrets can teach us about ourselves, help us avoid repeating mistakes, and encourage us to make wiser decisions. It’s not that we have a brief time to live, but that we waste a lot of it!” Contrary, if we allow our regrets to re-play painful memories and haunt us, or ignore them, our devastating failures will repeat themselves, impair thinking, and diminish positive growth.

Regardless of your age, it’s never too late to change directions to accept your past and learn from its valuable teaching lessons. We have researched and written extensively on creating happiness, overcoming bitterness, forgiveness, and turning our regrets into blessings. In published articles available on our non-profit website, we outline specific roadmaps on how to live purposeful, peaceful lives.

Are you ready to make some life-changing directions so when you approach death, you aren’t fearful and have few regrets? I learned, with God’s help, that our minds, which fiercely resist change, can be reprogramed. It wasn’t easy, but my efforts were mostly successful! If this stubborn human can do it, so can you!


Write to Mike at [email protected]. Visit his nonprofit website and register to receive his monthly articles or Daily Thoughts plus free access to his books, including “The Art of Building Great Businesses.” The website includes 100+ published articles he has written on business, travel, and personal topics, in addition to health research with Surb Guram, MD and David Hurst, DMV.