Roman Philosopher Seneca the Younger once wrote, “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. When it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. Life is long if you know how to use it.”
Lately, I find myself thinking a lot about the notion that life is long if you know how to use it.
Life is not a particularly easy experience to navigate and few of us, if any, have mastered to progress without our share of unexpected circumstances and challenges.
At times, I tend to think that we ourselves overcomplicate the game of life – preparing a long list of lofty goals and priorities which often fall hollow at the end of our existence.
We simply fail to realize that it’s the people we share our lives with which ultimately support the notion that life is long if you know how to use it.
Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse specializing in palliative care, cared for patients who had sadly been sent home to die with anywhere from three to twelve weeks left here on earth.
From Bronnie’s website: “People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.”
After many years of caring and supporting her patients – becoming a sort of confidant for their confessions and regrets during this stage of clarity – she found many common themes in her conversations and lists the top five in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. I list them below.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Have you noticed anything missing from the top five? There were no comments about traveling and seeing the world, buying that house on the lake, owning their dream car or making vice president in their choice of careers.
The top five regrets were incredibly personal and all aligned with what I mentioned above – we simply fail to realize that it’s the people we share our lives with which ultimately support the notion that life is long if you know how to use it.
There’s nothing wrong with having dreams and aspirations – that’s what keeps us moving forward, especially during times of struggle.
But don’t wait until the final days of your life to realize that seeing the world is a wonderful experience, but continually seeing the faces of the people you love – creating meaningful and lasting relationships – is the true measure of a long, happy life.