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5 Biggest Regrets of People Who Are Dying

comforting handsDo you think you can predict what your regrets would be if you got to a point in your life when you knew you were going to die soon? A nurse who has been caring for years for people in their last weeks of life has kept notes on their regrets and published them in the book, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.

I learned about the book from Susie, a UK reader of my writings, who referred me to this story about the book in the UK newspaper, the Guardian. I’ve also been reading more about The Top 5 Regrets elsewhere. (I don’t have a copy of the book yet.) If you want to take a moment to make your predictions about the Top 5 Regrets before reading what they are, you can do that now.

As Susie noted when she first told me about the book, “I wish I got married” was not among the top five regrets. The Guardian notes that the dying also do not rewrite their lives by putting more sex in them. Here is the actual list:

  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 didn’t work 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.

As I’ve discussed previously, staying in touch with friends is something that singles do more than married people. That’s well-documented by research.

I think that #1 deserves its top spot. It may also be the rule for living that is most difficult to honor. I’m a social psychologist, and that means that I’m very attentive to the power of situational factors. We are all potentially influenced in so many ways by our social contexts, including the expectations of the people around us. When those expectations are consistent with who we really are, that gives us an edge. People who want to be coupled, who want to marry – for their own reasons and not other people’s – are often in just such a privileged position. The kind of life that would work best for them is the kind of life that other people expect them to lead.

It is different for people who are single at heart. They are the people whose lives are most meaningful and authentic when lived single. Maybe as single people they are best able to nurture their ties with friends and family, or pursue their passions, or find meaningful work, or create the best mix of time alone and time with others, or all of the above.

What they won’t have, until we do more consciousness-raising about the matter, is easy sailing. Other people will be forever telling them that they are not really happy single, that they are just fooling themselves, and that they – the outside observers – know better than the single people themselves how those single people should be living their lives. The judgmental ones are wrong. If you think you are truly single at heart (here’s a survey, if you are interested), then follow your heart. That way, you will not end up experiencing Regret #1 on your deathbed.

Comforting hands photo available from Shutterstock.

5 Biggest Regrets of People Who Are Dying

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2012). 5 Biggest Regrets of People Who Are Dying. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Feb 2012
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