Major Regrets Shared by the Dying

By Mike DuBose

Who can say they never had any life’s regrets? Haven’t we all blindly traveled down what appeared as appealing roads that unexpectedly turned into nightmares? And, made stupid decisions, experienced turbulent relationships, or did things that led to traumatic outcomes which stick to us—like super glue? I looked at the coffee cup celebrating my 40th birthday given to me 34 years ago and realized my time on Earth is running out. It seems as I age, the clock spins faster.

In examining your life, are you still haunted by past events? Psychologist Erikson theorized unresolved conflicts trap us in the past and lead to flawed future thinking. Aristotle determined that an unexamined life was not worth living. He emphasized that we should pause periodically, review our past, and make positive adjustments along the way. Plato echoed “The important thing is not life, but the good life which is only possible for those who don’t fear death and have few regrets.”

In preparation for this article, I studied literature on death and common themes people shared with trusted hospice workers in their final days, in addition to reading the bestseller “The Five Regrets of the Dying” by Bronnie Ware. While teaching senior Sunday school classes, in searching to improve my life, I occasionally asked the members “If you could re-live your life, what would you do differently?” With grimacing, painful facial expressions and sometimes teary eyes, many echoed their troubling regretful lives as if it were too late for changes. Facing the end of life often summons strong thoughts examining one’s past as discussed below:

  • (1) Made work the top priority and worked too hard. Prestigious jobs, high salaries, and feeding egos can rob valuable time from family and spouses (a high cause of divorces). I’ve met many successful individuals who were married to their 80-hour jobs that sucked the energy out of them. Likewise, I was on that endless success merry-go-round for years but realized the dangers before it was too late. One of my long-time corporate officers shared how his previous cold-hearted employer pushed him to work longer hours so the company could needlessly bill clients and increase profits. He was surprised when he came to work for our businesses where we encouraged a culture of balancing work and personal lives that led to happier, productive team members.
  • (2) Lived life doing what they loved and pursued their dreams versus what others expected. I counsel individuals to “Follow their passions” when planning their education and careers. Parents have a tremendous impact on their child’s overall well-being and play major roles in shaping their future thinking, values, and behaviors. While genetics play roles, Educator John 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 their dreams. 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 damaging low self-esteems that would follow their children throughout their lives. They will unconsciously overcompensate by being successful in unwanted directions to satisfy their parents’ unrealistic expectations. While attending my grandson’s sports this year, I observed the embarrassing, parent hurtful screamers are far worse today. Please remember that children’s activities should be fun and encouraging.
  • (3) Had the courage to express true feelings. Sharing your views unemotionally 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 complainers, we owe it to ourselves and others to express ourselves when we’re offended or our thoughts aren’t considered. If we repress our emotions, bitterness and resentment can eat into our happiness causing physical and emotional damages that wildly spread throughout our lives.
  • (4) Didn’t build relationships with friends and relatives. While it’s refreshing to occasionally spend time alone, too much social isolation, especially sitting for extended periods of time watching harmful television talk shows and one-sided news, can lead to physical problems (elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress hormones, weakened immune systems, cognitive decline, dementia) and mental health disorders (anxiety, depression).
  • (5) Not allowing themselves to be happy. 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.”

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, 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 successful. If this hardhead did it, so can you.

Write to Mike at and visit for free access to his books, including “The Art of Building Great Businesses,” and 100+ published articles on business, travel, and personal topics, in addition to health research with Surb Guram, MD.