Bronnie Ware spent many years as a palliative care nurse in Australia, caring for patients who had left the hospital to die in their homes. She must have been a very compassionate nurse, because she says that every one of her patients found peace before they died.
Often, in fact, she found that her patients wanted to share with her the wisdom that came with that peace — some by sharing advice or stories, and many by sharing their regrets, so that she might avoid them in her own life.
Bronnie recently wrote a book about her experiences, titled Top Five Regrets of the Dying. It’s full of generous wisdom that we all have the privilege of using in our own lives. Here are the five most common regrets voiced by Bronnie’s patients.
The human brain’s default orientation is to focus on our experience in the here and now. Without that natural focus on our immediate experience, we’d never get to work on time, or appreciate the feel of the breeze against our skin on a beautiful spring day.
But there can be tremendous benefit to sometimes taking ourselves out of the here and now by imagining ourselves in a different place or time, or by taking on an outsider’s perspective. When we do this, we engage different areas our brains — areas that can help us to make better decisions, resist temptation, make progress toward goals, and resolve disputes with others.
Psychologists refer to this technique as gaining psychological distance, and it’s as simple as using our imaginations to activate the parts of our brains that aren’t so caught up with our immediate experience, perceptions, and feelings.
THIS QUESTION CAN HELP YOU BREAK THROUGH AND GET IT DONE
by Lynda Wallace
We know when we’re doing it because we start to tell ourselves our favorite procrastination stories — stories we’ve probably heard many times before.
Do any of these sound at all familiar?
Tomorrow I’ll be able to really concentrate on this report without being interrupted.
It will be kinder not to bring up this issue with my spouse just yet.
I’ll be more creative if I do this project when I really feel like doing it. (This is a personal favorite story of mine.)
I work best under pressure.
As handy as these stories can be, they don’t usually turn out to be true.
People are always telling me not to be such a downer, but I naturally see the negative side of things and tend to expect the worst. Is that really so bad, and isn’t my reaction my own business?
Sure, your reaction is your own business as long as you keep it your own business. But if people are always telling you not to be such a downer, it sounds as if you have a tendency to inflict your negative feelings and expectations on others, which not a lot of people are going to appreciate.
So for the sake of your relationships with your friends and family, try to be conscious of their feelings as well as your own. If you’re troubled by or anxious about something, by all means go ahead and talk it through, but resist the tendency to rain on every parade just because you can.
And aside from whether it’s fair to your friends and family, it’s also worth considering whether your pessimistic orientation is serving you well.
by Lynda Wallace
You’re a contestant on a game show, and you’re up for the big prize. (It’s your imagination, so you get to dream up any prize you’d like.)
The host brings onto the stage three people you don’t know and tells you that your challenge is to sort these strangers according to how happy they are on the basis of their answers to a single question.
You get to choose the question, but you have to ask each of the three people the same one.
Which one question would you ask?
THESE COMMON HABITS CAN STAND BETWEEN US AND GREATER HAPPINESS
by Lynda Wallace
I usually write about things we can start doing to make our lives better, but it’s just as important that we try to stop doing the things that are getting in our way. So here are three things worth doing a lot less of, and some practical ideas about what to try instead.
1. Seeing Lions on the Savannah
The human species evolved in a situation of scarcity and danger where survival demanded that our ancestors react more strongly to threats than to pleasures. Reacting to a lion on the savannah was a lot more important than enjoying the sunrise. We still have essentially the same brains as early humans, but most of us live in vastly different circumstances than they did. As a result, our automatic responses are often out of synch with the situations in which we find ourselves.
Most of what I write about is based on research studies of large groups of people, but of course wise individuals have a lot to teach us as well. In his wonderful book, 30 Lessons in Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer gives some of our elders a chance to share their life lessons. Here are five of my favorites.
1. If you have some extra money, spend it on travel, not on stuff.
The folks in Dr. Pillemer’s book are clear on this point. Travel makes life bigger, stretches our minds and hearts, and enriches our lives with memories that will last. Stuff, on the other hand, just tends to sit there.
2. Choose a spouse or life partner with values similar to your own.
Opposites may attract, but when it comes to creating a life together, these older adults say we’re best off choosing someone with an outlook similar to our own, particularly on those values that matter to us the most.
Maybe it’s easy for you to stand your ground in a discussion with your spouse about vacation options, but not in one with your boss about needing to find a better work/life balance. Or you may not have to think twice about asking your neighbor to turn down the music so the baby can sleep, but you can’t seem to decline a request to chair the next PTA fundraiser, even though you haven’t gotten the last few dozen boxes of Girl Scout cookies out of your front hall yet.
Well, here are two bits of good news.
HOW MAKING SOMETHING 5% BETTER CAN INITIATE TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE
by Lynda Wallace
Today let’s pay some attention to what we’re not so happy about.
Think of something you’re dissatisfied with in your life. Are you too busy to spend enough time with family and friends? Are you unhappy about your weight or your financial situation? Is getting the kids up and off to school on time a big headache every day? It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, just think of something that stands in between you and greater happiness.
YOUR ONE-POINT PLAN FOR GREATER HAPPINESS AND HEALTH
by Lynda Wallace
It made for a hard day, didn’t it? You could see it in their glassy eyes and hear it in their frustrated sobs that they just didn’t have the resources they needed to get through the day in one piece. And if it went on for a couple of days in a row, it was bad news for everyone in the house.
Now here’s a question for you. How much sleep do you get?
If your answer is less than seven and a half hours a night, you might have a little more in common with that screaming toddler than you think.