The Most Common Death Bed Regrets & How To Avoid Them


“When tomorrow comes this day will be gone forever, but I shall hold something which I have traded for it. It may be no more than a memory, but if it is a worthy one I shall not regret the price.”

The one thing that gives me fear in life is regret.

The idea that some day I’ll take my last breath with a ton of regret is something that gives me a ton of fear.

I wanted to understand the most common regrets of people and came across a piece that was written by a palliative care nurse. The nurse asked people on their death bed if they had any regrets and documented the responses to provide insight around what in fact were the most common regrets that people had.

Here’s the 5 most common regrets that the nurse shared:

  • Courage to live a life true to myself & not others expectations
  • Worked too hard
  • Not enough courage to express my feelings
  • Didn’t let myself be happier
  • Didn’t stay in touch with friends

These all seem simple at first glance. But how often do you think about regret?

And how likely are you to fall into the trap of letting these regrets creep into your life before it’s all said and done?

It’s worth thinking about.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into how you can avoid these regrets and some of my thoughts on each:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

What do you want out of life?

What would you describe as a great life?

Understand the answers to these questions and don’t forget them.

Getting closer to seeing these answers come to life might involve setting goals and making plans to achieve them.

Avoiding this regret will involve being honest with yourself and others about your desires and needs. It’s not easy to figure this out. It’s not easy to gain clarity on what you want. But this is something that is key for a fulfilling life.

Seek out the support and guidance friends, family, or a therapist, as you work towards living a life that is true to yourself.

Remember it is never too late to make changes and pursue your passions (or slight variations of it).

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

This is one of the most difficult regrets for me to think about.

I love my work.

But I know that it’s very possible that maybe… Just maybe I’ll regret this one.

Depending on your situation this might involve setting boundaries around your work. I know some people create rules and structure for their work like only checking emails or taking phone calls during certain hours, or turning Slack off on their phone.

I don’t really care about any of that. I enjoy my work. So the way that I increase the likelihood of me not regretting how much I work is prioritizing the work that is important, rather than trying to do everything at once. Additionally, I find time to take breaks and make time for rest when needed.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

One way to avoid this regret is to practice good communication skills and be open and honest about your feelings. This may involve finding the right time and place to have difficult conversations, and being assertive and clear in expressing your thoughts and emotions. It can also be helpful to be open to hearing and considering others’ perspectives, and to try to find common ground and solutions to problems.

It may be helpful to seek out the support and guidance of others, such as friends, family, or a therapist, as you work on expressing your feelings. It is also important to be kind and compassionate towards yourself, and to remember that it is okay to have a range of emotions and that it is natural to feel vulnerable when expressing your feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

I always tell people that life is about the experiences you have and the people you share them with.

Your friends are a group of people you should try to intentionally stay connected with because that connection can be everything when life gets tough.

One way to avoid this regret is to make an effort to stay connected with your friends, even if you are busy or live far apart. This may involve scheduling regular catch-up calls or video chats, or making plans to meet in person when possible. It may also involve finding ways to stay connected online, such as through social media or messaging apps. It can be helpful to be proactive in reaching out to your friends and making an effort to stay in touch, rather than waiting for them to initiate contact.

It is also important to be understanding and flexible if your friends are unable to stay in touch as frequently as you would like, and to try to find ways to stay connected despite any challenges. Additionally, it can be helpful to make new friends and build new connections, as this can help enrich your life and provide additional support and companionship.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Happiness is a tough one. I’m wired in a way where my default setting is happy so this one doesn’t hit me as hard. But I know a lot of people struggle with it.

This is where I think therapy can play a big role but also some of the simple things:

  • Exercise
  • Sunlight
  • Real Food
  • Movement
  • More Experiences
  • Find things you love and do them

Another simple way to avoid this regret is to focus on cultivating happiness and well-being in your life.

This may involve setting goals and taking actions that align with your values and bring you joy and fulfillment. It can also involve practicing gratitude and focusing on the positive aspects of your life, rather than dwelling on negative thoughts and experiences.

It may be helpful to engage in activities that promote relaxation and stress management, such as meditation, exercise, or hobbies. Additionally, it can be helpful to seek out social support and connections with others, as these can provide a sense of belonging and contribute to overall well-being. It may also be helpful to seek out professional help, such as therapy, if you are struggling with negative thoughts or emotions that are impacting your ability to be happy.

All in all…

Regret is a strong emotion.

It’s also in many ways a wasted one. The best way to avoid it is to live and operate in a way that allows you to minimize regret as much as possible.