Field of Science

My real time-machine

I have a mental time-machine that I like to use to reflect on my own life. I am 90 years old, and I am thinking about the things I wish I had done differently. Like, if only I had hugged my kids more when they were young, or if only I had read more books, etc. And then I travel back in time to now, and I am able to make those changes. It's brilliant.

So, on your deathbed (why would anyone buy a deathbed?), how would you wish you had lived your life differently?

According to someone who have worked a lot with dying people (get the details on Rationally Speaking), here are the top five regrets:

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.

Personally, I'm mostly good with the first three, but not so much on the fourth. I do wish I had stayed more in touch with old friends, but then moving abroad makes that hard. Somehow there is the expectation that those who move away are the ones who must work to keep in touch, and not the other way around. Good thing I'm in Denmark now, so I can call of old friends and go see how they are.

As for the fifth one, I don't know what that means, really. Seems to me the first four are what people wished to do in order to have lived a happier life. Just saying I wish I could have been happier really doesn't make much sense. Do people really ever "let" themselves be happy? How does one do that, if not by trying to be true to oneself, work less, express one's feelings more, and keep in touch with friends? [After writing that, I read the to the end of Massimo's post, and realized he thinks the same thing about point 5.]

Anyhow, I highly recommend using the mental time-machine once in a while. It's effective for thinking about what we are doing right now. Is that really what we want to tell out grandchildren that we were spending our time doing? If we cheat and lie and hurt other people, are we comfortable telling that story to the grandchildren? Is anger and fighting what we want to write about in our memoirs? When you're on your deathbed (personally, I'm not getting one), are you going to be regretful or not? Now is the time to do something about it. As I said once to a dear friend who I am seeing very soon, I don't know what you should do, but I know when: Now.

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