Side note: Do women have Midlife Crises? We always hear about men having them, but I've never heard of women going through them. Have I just not seen the signs?
Last year, about 2 weeks before my birthday, I saw my first grey hair. I was sort of proud of it - for all that I'd gone through to get that grey hair, but also felt a pang of dread as I realized my life was half over.
Now it's even more half over but I don't feel the same dread as I did last year. I have a couple more grey hairs now, and am hoping soon I'll have enough to start looking wise.
So as I think about my life, where I've come from, where I am now, and where I'd still like to go in my future, I came across an article written about a nurse who has recorded the regrets of the dying on a blog and now in a book: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing by Bronnie Ware.
From what I gather it's a memoir. The article listed the 5 regrets, so of course, I am going to share them briefly:
- I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. (the top regret - dreams unfulfilled by choices made or not made)
- I wish I hadn't worked so hard. (from every male patient who felt they had worked on a treadmill instead of spending time with their family, and from some women)
- I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. (suppressed feelings to keep the peace, they felt they never became who they were capable of becoming. Did this lead to the illnesses they developed due to their bitterness and resentment? The author draws that conclusion)
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. (many regrets for not giving friendships the time and effort they deserved)
- I wish that I had let myself be happier. (Is happiness a choice? Many regretted staying stuck in old patterns and bad habits, in fear of change.)
I've been mulling over my life since I read this. Here's the big question:
If you were to die tonight, would you have any regrets? If so, how could you change your life now that you realize you are not living the life you would like for yourself?
Of course, sometimes we are in bad situations, either of our own making or through plain bad "luck". I've been in tough circumstances in my day, some of which seemed completely hopeless and eternal.
But do I have any regrets about my life now? I haven't been able to think of many. Sure, I wish I were a lot less phobic and had better genes (it would be especially nice to have "normal" brain chemistry!), but I can honestly say I'm true to myself now.
I haven't always, though. In my younger years, I was deeply unhappy, achingly lonely and mentally ill, which led to quite a few bad decisions.
Somehow I learned a few key concepts along the way:
- Expect the worst but hope for the best. This is a cliche because it's true. When I was young I had ridiculously high expectations of myself and others. I was extremely idealistic and I was constantly let down by normal mistakes and failings of myself and others.
- Be pragmatic and realistic. Idealism goes against Rule 1 and leads to bitterness and unhappiness.
- Always look on the bright side of life. (Thank you Monty Python!) But make sure to keep # 1 and #2 in mind. It's good to see the good in people and the world, but keep it realistic.
- Think critically and do your research. Reality, science and facts are objective. Learn critical thinking and be skeptical (without being a cynic). When you can't know something directly, research. To start, look to the consensus of experts within their field.
- Revel in the majesty of the Cosmos. Find delight and wonder in little things and big things alike. For me, I am in awe of the complexity of living things like lady bugs, ichneumon wasps, moss and lichens. Lichens are so amazingly cool!
- Find a philosophy of life that works for you. Evaluate your principles and make sure they are truly yours. I wrote mine awhile ago and periodically review them to make sure I am being true to myself and what I stand for. Recently, I've finally found the philosophy that works best for me: Epicureanism: Epicurus believed that pleasure is the greatest good. But the way to attain pleasure is to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one's desires.
- Live simply, below your means (so that you can comfortably invest in your future and for rainy days). In keeping with Rule #6, find delight in a simple, comfortable, moderate life. Exercise regularly and eat healthy foods in moderation most of the time.
- Be honest and direct. If you can't say something nice, try to refrain when possible. If you have to say something harsh, be compassionate and critique instead of criticize. Try to say something positive at the same time.
- In line with Rule #8, if you have something nice to say, don't hesitate to say it. Tell your loved ones how much you cherish them. Tell the waitress she was great, tell the cashier to have a nice day, etc. It doesn't cost anything to be kind and compassionate.
- Volunteer in something you are passionate about. Volunteers have been shown to have better physical and mental health and better quality of life. If we all did something to help the world in some way, imagine how much better all of our lives would be. And honestly, it feels good when you volunteer.
I'm sure there are more, but these are the mainstays of my life. So, I can say that if I die tonight in my sleep, while it would have been nice to do more (and to have done a lot of things differently), I don't really have those 5 regrets.
Overall, I think I'm living a pretty authentic life.
Of course, I don't want to die any time soon, and hope to have a good quality of life for a long time to come. We only get this one precious life. I think we should cherish it. While we can't all be presidents and astronauts, we sure can be honest and good and compassionate, just because it's the right thing to do. And that can make us happier.
What have you learned that might help others live authentic, fulfilling lives?