The top most common regrets

When many people look back on their lives, they often regret prioritising work over other aspects of their lives.

Calodagh McCumiskey

When I was in my mid 30s, I visited someone in their late 70s. At the time he seemed old. As I get closer to that age, it does not seem so far away! We were talking about life and the many lessons he had learned over the years.

He said one of his top learnings was: ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’. And he added: ‘when you get to my age, you realise that it is all small stuff’. So much of what we think and worry about on a day-to-day basis doesn’t matter long-term – but somehow we get into the habit of worrying about it on a daily basis.

It is interesting to hear and be reminded of the top regrets commonly expressed by people near the end of their lives. They are often documented by various sources including palliative care nurses and researchers and in books and on various social media platforms.

Why they vary from person to person, some of the most frequently shared include:

Not living a life that is true to yourself: Many people express regret for not living a life in which they were true to their own aspirations, dreams, and values. This can mean they did not follow their passion in choosing a career path or that they gave importance to pleasing others, or nor did not take risks to follow their own path.

Working too much: People often regret prioritising work over other aspects of their lives – like spending time with family and friends or doing what they love. They wish they had achieved a better work-life balance.

Not expressing feelings: Many express regret for not openly expressing their feelings or holding back their emotions. They wish they had been more honest with themselves and others, and had the courage to communicate their thoughts, and heartfelt feelings of love and gratitude.

Not taking care of their health: Neglecting one’s health is a common regret. Many of us do not value our health until we do not have it. People often express remorse for not giving time to themselves, not looking after themselves and ignoring symptoms. This can range from not exercising to not dealing with stresses and not taking necessary preventive measures.

Neglecting relationships: Many regret not investing time and effort in building and maintaining meaningful relationships. They wish they had prioritised nurturing connections with family, friends, and loved ones more consistently.

Not pursuing personal happiness: Many individuals regret for not prioritising their own happiness. They wish they spent more time on what brought them joy and fulfilment rather than spending time trying meet others expectations and always seeking their approval

Not forgiving and reconciling: Holding grudges and not forgiving others can weigh heavily on people’s minds as they approach the end of their lives. Many regret not resolving conflicts or mending broken relationships.

Not all of these regrets will feel relevant to you. But some may, and if they do, they can serve as powerful reminders to reflect and make time for what really matters in your busy day-to-day life. They can enable us to learn lessons and perhaps even make different choices. Mostly people regret what they did not do rather than what they did. So if you are thinking of doing something – go for it. Reflecting on the lessons can help you live your life in a way that fulfils you and inspire you to make sure you spend time on what really matters. And remember: ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’.