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Opinion Things I wish I had done differently

George HasaraI'm a big fan of top whatever lists. Usually grouped in multiples of five, the lists make for a quick read and a fast track to quasi authority on subjects ranging from the smartest dog breeds to the most fattening fast food entrees. I particularly enjoy reading about the worst cities in the U.S., because I know Detroit is going to be at the top, and for some perverse reason, I think that's funny.

With lists, it's usually read it/forget it, then move on to new minutiae. However, there's one list in particular that I find myself referencing on a regular basis. Titled “5 Top Regrets of Dying Patients,” it's a compilation of interviews with people during their final stage of life. If any group should have insight on missed opportunities, it's those who know they have run out of time. While the data is from the dying, the target audience is the rest of us who still think we will live forever.

The top responses are:

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

I realize that many people feel pressure to do what is “expected” of them. It is easy to get caught up by what “they” think.

2. I wish I didn't work so hard.

It seems this is tied into the previous regret, being another attempt to live a life that someone else will approve of. This appears to be a moderation issue as well. Hard work can be good but that doesn't mean always working hard, is.

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

Once again, a fear of disapproval by the ubiquitous “they.”

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

This is one that I do need to pay more attention to. There's a reason for the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” Friendships are like fitness, if you don't work at it, it falls apart like your waistline. The good part is, like working out, if you've stopped doing your routine, you can start up again.

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

This regret is tougher to grasp. Isn't happiness a result of good things happening and bad things not? Is happiness a process of affirmative living, or a by-product of events?

Interesting enough, the above list doesn't mention things like bungee jumping off the Eiffel Tower or riding on the back of an Orca whale. The concept of a “bucket list” is prevalent and has been popularized in film. I'm sure it would be a hoot to jet set with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Nevertheless, can one really “complete” their life by experiencing a sequence of adventures or is it like trying to eat everything at a buffet? Oh sure, it looks and tastes great until...

I don't like to repeat mistakes, I like to make new ones. Those who have died offer powerful insight on what not to do. It's always good and timely advice to live life on your own terms. Embracing life and choosing happiness is fantastic and just the thing to get Detroit on a different list.

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