9 Lessons to Learn from the Dying About How to Live a Greater Life Today

None of us will get out of here alive.

So, what can we learn from those who pondered how they wished they had lived their life when they were not in the midst of dying.

You do know you are going to die someday, right? And you hope it is a long time from now. But sometimes we live in fear of death instead of learning from it. The native Americans held a belief that death was your ally…once you befriended it, it did not haunt you but taught you about living.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Soren Kierkegaard

People who have reflected on their lives when they were near death have much to teach us.

Bronnie Ware wrote a blog that became a best-selling book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. (Bronnie is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in the field of palliative care with patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives.)

Bronnie learned the following about living from those who were dying:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. I teach, write and coach about this frequently and live my life with this as a compass point.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. No one has ever lay on their death bed and said they wished they had worked harder.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. This was truer for males more than females but it applies to all. Why do you stuff your feelings or leave them unresolved? They’re just feelings. If you ignore them, they fester and get stronger emotions are energy in motion…. e-motion.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Do you have people in your life you think about but don’t call or write or visit? Why not? Make a point to connect and you will be richer for it.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. The key word here is ‘let’. Can you allow yourself to choose happiness? What do you need to confront or finish or resolve to be happy? Do it!!! If you don’t you have not one to blame but yourself.

In addition to these 5 over the years I have thought of some others as I evolved in my own life experience and coached others in theirs.

I interned many decades ago in a child cancer ward with young children who were likely to die and they taught me so much about living.

  1. Be happy now…. now is what you have. Don’t live in the past or get stuck in an unrealized future. The future is a plan but it is not predictable 100%…Take steps now to live with zest and enthusiasm because every day is a gift.
  2. Take risks. If you always do what you do, you’ll get what you always get. The unexpected surprises in my life and greatest experiences have often come from unplanned or unexpected events that came from risking something new or different.
  3. Your family and social life means everything. Choose the people you really want to be around and if they are energy drainers, choose someone else. In today’s world you can have friends where you live and also any where in the world in a robust social/virtual world online. Just choose authenticity or a social avatar that is not real.
  4. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Lighten up when possible. Have fun. This may be your only life. Take life seriously but live it with lightness of being. Have fun whenever you can, and if it’s not fun, get done with that piece and go have fun somewhere. Much of this is an attitude of curiosity and detachment from expectations.
One of my favorite authors, Hugh Prather says in Notes to Myself,
“If I had Only …
Forgotten future greatness
and looked at the green things and the buildings
and reached out to those around me
and smelled the air
and ignored the forms and the self-styled obligations
and heard the rain on the roof
and put my arms around my wife
… and it’s not too late”

if you are ready to live more vitally and on purpose, please consider reading my book on Getting Naked: On Emotional Transparency at the Right Time, the Right Place, and with the Right Person.

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