The 9 Most Common Life Regrets of the Elderly and the Dying

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When we’re young, we’re told to work and strive tirelessly to achieve our dreams and career goals. Whether fueled by societal expectations, personal ambition, or the desire to fulfill perceived obligations, more often than not, we end up embarking on lifelong quests to achieve “success.” But what happens when the relentless pursuit doesn’t match up with what brings us genuine fulfillment and happiness? 

As we age and reflect on our lives, the common regrets shared by the elderly and dying become more apparent. From wishing they had prioritized personal happiness over societal expectations, to lamenting lost time with loved ones, these reflections reveal profound truths about the human experience.

Here are nine of the most common regrets of the elderly and the dying, plus what they wish they had done differently if they had a chance to do it all over again. 

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1. Not Living True to Oneself

At the end of their lives, it wasn’t the balance in their bank accounts that most people worried about. Instead, they regretted not having had the courage to live a life true to themselves, rather than what others expected of them. “They didn’t realize they were capable of choosing fun and happiness until it was too late,” says Grace Bluerock LCSW, who worked as a hospice nurse for six years. 

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2. Working Too Much

Devoting too much time to work and career advancement often results in the neglect of meaningful relationships and personal well-being. This regret is common among individuals who spent the prime of their lives climbing the corporate ladder, sacrificing priceless memories and connections in the process. It isn’t until it’s too late that they realize the trade-off was not worth it. 

“Choose a company that values a healthy work-life balance,” says Bluerock, adding, “Your job is important, but there are other things in life that are just as important.”

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3. Not Expressing How They Truly Felt

Failing to communicate one’s true feelings and being open and honest with their loved ones is another common regret that the dying have. “Many people expressed sorrow for not having been more understanding, caring, and present for the people who were important to them,” says Bluerock. “They wished they had the courage to say ‘I love you’ more often.” (Friendly reminder to pick up the phone and call your parents). 

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4. Not Staying in Touch With Friends

In the whirlwind of life’s demands, where we all have a ton to juggle, friendships often find themselves in the back burner. The weekly phone calls become monthly check-ins, until, almost imperceptibly, years have slipped by. In hindsight, many wish they had nurtured these relationships instead of letting life get in the way. After all, you can’t put a price tag on the happiness and comfort that enduring friendships can bring. 

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5. Not Taking Better Care of Themselves

When we’re busy chasing dreams and dealing with everyday stuff, it can be easy to neglect self-care. It’s not until later on that people realize their habits may have severely harmed their health. “Most patients thought that if they’d eaten better, slept more, and paid more attention to their health and well-being, they might not have gotten sick,” says Bluerock. “They wished they had made self-care more of a priority.”

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6. Not Taking Enough Risks

Fear of failure or rejection often holds people back from pursuing their dreams. In hindsight, the regret lies in not taking chances that could have led to more fulfilling experiences or achievements. “Many felt that a fear of failure caused them to play it too safe,” says Bluerock. “They knew that they could have had richer, more fulfilling lives had they taken some risks and disturbed the status quo.”

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7. Not Spending Enough Time With Loved Ones

Realizing too late that wealth or success cannot replace the time lost with family and friends is another common regret that the dying face. “The people I worked with often regretted taking their families for granted,” says Bluerock. “After all, once they got terminally ill, it was their families who stuck by them to hold their hand, provide love and companionship, and care for them around the clock.” 

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8. Not Being Present

Getting caught up in the past or worrying about the future can prevent one from living in the moment. As such, individuals often regret not appreciating the present, dwelling too much on the past, and missing out on the joy and beauty of life as it was happening. “Most people regretted the time they wasted worrying about things beyond their control,” says Bluerock. 

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9. Not Pursuing One’s Passions

Giving up on one’s dreams and passions in favor of a “safe job” is a regret many voice, Bluerock points out. They wish they had allowed themselves to follow their heart’s desires, even if it felt risky. “Many expressed that they had never enjoyed their job but had stuck with it year after year to pay the bills,” she writes, adding, “They wished instead that they had chosen work that was in line with their purpose and passions.”

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