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Written by Jenifer Chrisman on December 29, 2015.

The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

compiled by Bronnie Ware


  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.

The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying are profound statements. They are hard lessons learned when there is little to no time left to do something about them. For those whose time still seems plentiful, we can choose to heed those lessons now and live our lives more fully. We also can ponder our current and future regrets and use them to our advantage by taking away their hold over our lives.

Second guessing, also known as regret, is a part of human nature. With the news media outlets flashing sensationalized headlines of natural disasters, murder and war on a daily basis, regrets for what we do/say or don’t do/say are on the rise.

Surprising recent studies of the negative emotions (regret, guilt, sadness, disappointment, shame, fear, disgust, anger, frustration, anxiety, jealousy, boredom), show that humans find regret not only beneficial, but that we highly value them when dealing with the five emotional functions: sense-making, approach, avoidance, insight and social harmony.

As with all of the negative emotions, while there can be a downside (depression), regret throws up a red flag that can boot us into action and change the course of our futures. Regret allows us to make sense of the things that have happened to us by finding and interpreting relevant facts. It allows us to know what could have been or can be changed. It also stops us in our tracks and keeps us from beating ourselves up if there was nothing we could have done differently.

Once we have made sense of our regret we can then approach the situation in our minds and decide whether or not to hold onto or change our attitudes and actions. Without regret pushing us to make sense of a situation, we may continue with an attitude or repeat an action that will keep causing the regret to repeat itself.

Like many situations in our lives, some regrets can be avoided in future while others must be dealt with. After determining to maintain or change our attitudes or actions we can decide whether or not we can or should avoid those situations that cause us to feel regret.

If the situation cannot be avoided, regret grants us the insight to experiment with ways to cope other than the way we have handled it in the past. Thus, although we cannot avoid the situation altogether we can, hopefully, find a way to live with it in a more positive manner.

Even when we cannot come up with a completely successful solution to dealing with our regret, knowing we have done everything possible helps us live with it more easily and reconciles us to a more peaceful social harmony. Whether the regret is from long ago or simply something there is no way to fix completely, the fact we have tried everything within our power to mend it makes it far easier to live with than a regret left unattended. Much like poking at a sore tooth with our tongue, it’s not going to get any better unless we do something about it.

Regret, like all of the negative emotions, can be used to positively influence our lives. The choice is up to us whether we let our regret eat us alive or we use it to fix our mistakes/choices and turn down a better path toward our future.

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