They say there’s no use crying over spilled milk. But what if that spillage is a life-altering mistake, and the milk is your existence in a cruel, indifferent universe? We all have regrets.
Australian nurse Bronnie Ware once recorded her dying patients’ most common ones, and there's a lot we can learn. So what can we do to heed these warnings and avoid being saddled with regret-stained senility? Here are the top five regrets of the dying:
1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
“Work,” also known to some as “decades of industrialized servility punctuated only by evenings and weekends of binge-drinking, binge-watching and a howling, pathological emptiness.”
While a lucky few of us enjoy what we do and adopt a Rick Rossin approach to hustlin’, the majority of us see work as an inescapable, vampiric sh*tstrocity. I’m petrified I’ll squander my life, endlessly toiling away in an office cubicle-coffin surrogate to become money-rich, time-poor and emotionally derelict.
Plenty of people die regretting their workaholism. Parents regret having missed their children’s youth, before those kids themselves grew into functionary humans ready to fulfil their economic utility.
Others regret being married to work as opposed to working on being married, essentially shunning meaningful connection and affection from their spouses for small talk by the water cooler.
Why have sex with your spouse when you can instead spend that same time working and earning money to acquire the material goods marketing has subconsciously persuaded you will make your spouse want to have sex with you? The logic is faultless.
Personally, I haven’t experienced workaholism as I devote most of my time to eating sugary cereals and crying. But if I had to guess, I’d imagine the solution lies in establishing some kind of work/life equilibrium.
2. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Be true to yourself, unless the person you are is someone who isn’t true to him or herself, in which case, be someone else.
Much like Mexican wrestlers or Kubrickian orgy-goers, we all wear masks. It’s only natural to seek the approval of others.
But by assuming social roles and value systems external to ourselves, we pretend to be the cool guy sunglasses emoji when really it’s OK to be the smiling poop with eyes emoji, or even the eggplant.
I’m worried I’ll feel pressured into following a certain career path, making money, settling down, getting married and contributing to the planet’s overpopulation. But what else is there?
Rejecting societal expectations to live authentically as a stone-broke bohemian? The shagging-in-a-van approach to anti-establishment rebellion, rather than the beheading kind.
As a perpetually broke wannabe writer, I often wonder: Should I live in a cupboard under a kitchen sink surviving only on discounted noodles, or should I work a day job I despise?
Fortunately, expectations of me are so low the only way I could realistically disappoint anyone would be if I started masturbating in McDonald's (everyone knows I’m a Burger King man).
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
That’s right, if you had psychological repression on your card, you just won defence-mechanism bingo. This is the ostrich approach to confrontation: burying your head in the sand until you’re a low-fat burger. Being upfront is hard. The last time I expressed a gut feeling, it was gastrointestinal.
But many people live to regret this emotional repression, fearing their relationships became anchored around surface encounters or conversational dryhumping.
I think I worry that in revealing myself, I’ll reveal my inadequacies. It’s a bit of a pickle. Emotional intimacy and vulnerability are the cornerstones of any successful relationship, along with excessive drinking and making fun of others.
But if human beings were meant to be intimate, why were we built with too many arms for non-awkward spooning?
Personally, I find the best conduit for self-expression is to nestle your deeply-rooted insecurities and pain within unfunny Internet articles, but we’re all different.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I have six friends. They’re close to my heart, but they’re also popular sitcom characters hanging out in a Manhattan coffeehouse.
Regrettably, they never aired The One Where They’re All On Their Deathbeds. According to this study, though, many people die regretting having lost touch with their mates.
People lose touch for an array of reasons. Most often, friends move away, suggesting the root of all human companionship is physical proximity. In the old days, friends stayed in touch until one of them died of their own teeth.
Simpler times. I do worry sometimes that I have abysmal friendship skills.
What is that? Fear of intimacy? Lazy bastard syndrome? Whatever it is, I need to stop neglecting the people I hold dear or else risk not being invited to their open-bar weddings.
Fortunately, with the advent of social media, it’s much easier to fortify timeworn friendships via the exchange of funny cat videos.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a tricky one, but who am I to question the wisdom of the dying? Even if they were presumably tripping balls on pain medications.
For millennia, the greatest human minds have wrestled with the philosophical question of happiness -- but they were unavailable, so you’ll have to settle for pseudointellectual ramblings and dick jokes.
We tell ourselves we’ll be happier once we’re tan or slim or acne-free, once we have a Ferrari or furniture or a flat-coated retriever. But the satisfaction of one craving seems to birth another.
So what steps can we take to achieve blissful, Pharrell-like contentment? Do not run on autopilot. Do not over-intellectualize.
Do not take the present moment for granted. Do not pass go. Practice kindness. Mindfulness.
Puncture routine with goofing and guffawing. Seek out aesthetic pleasures. Cherish friendships. Express yourself. These are all embarrassingly obvious platitudes, but we, or at least I, need regular reminding.
A life without regret is an impossibility, but we can try to reduce our regret emissions, or at least see them as opportunities for personal growth. It’s a nice thought, anyway. I’ll probably just carry on being an assh*le.