Many of my friends and I are at that age where our parents are aging, transitioning into independent living facilities, or sadly, no longer with us. My dad passed away when I was a senior in college but thankfully my mom is still with us, albeit in a retirement home she doesn’t care for and with somewhat advanced aging issues. She is still her feisty self but at 92, limited in what she does and what she remembers. One thing I’ve learned through it all is that as we age and especially with the effects of Alzheimer’s and/or dementia, our short term memories dwindle but our long-term memories flourish.
It’s those long-term recollections that perhaps came alive, so to speak, when a recent group of retirement home residents stated their biggest regrets. I found their top five answers very interesting and am hoping that by sharing them with you we can all learn something, make adjustments in our lives, and take heed before it’s too late.
So…on that note…their top five answers in reverse order are:
No. 5: I wish I had let myself be happier.
I’m pretty sure we can all relate here. We’re all so caught up in racing and chasing that we don’t stop to smell the roses along that race route. We think more money, more stuff, more plastic surgery, and more time given to work will make us happier. News flash: if you’re not happy inside and happy to begin with, those things may bring you some happiness but you will still be unfulfilled if they’re all you’re after. Instead, stop. Stop and count your blessings, acknowledge your strengths, cherish your family and friend circles, and let yourself enjoy them and be happy. Stop and start smelling those roses.
It’s important to note here that in the pursuit of happiness and being happy, one must realize the difference between happiness and joy. Yes, we want to be happy but what we should really strive for is joy. Joy is not the same as pleasure or happiness, which is based on temporary circumstances. Happiness is an emotion and emotions are fleeting. Things in life make us happy and things in life make us sad. Joy, on the other hand, is a state of being. Yes, be happy but also be joyful.
No. 4: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Back in respondents’ days, this might have been harder than in today’s social media and technology-heavy world. They didn’t have cell phones to make and receive calls 24-7, they didn’t have Facebook to see whose birthday it is, they didn’t have Instagram to look at photos of friends and family, and they certainly didn’t have YouTube or email to check out videos starring loved ones. But, ironically, they might have lived near friends they wished they’d stayed in touch with as people tended to stay close to home as they grew up and weren’t as mobile work and residence-wise as we are today.
Nope, long-distance phone calls were the name of the game and mail was the way to go. As recent as when our daughter was little, Christmas cards and accompanying letters were a big deal. I remember hosting an annual Christmas card signing party for friends while our kids were in school. I’d provide drinks and goodies and they’d come with their address books, cards, envelopes, and stamps and a good time would be held by all. I haven’t sent a Christmas card in years as my thought is nearly anyone I would send one to pretty much knows what I’m up to thanks to social media. My husband makes fun of me being on Facebook and Instagram but I try to explain to him that they both keep me in touch with people I probably wouldn’t otherwise and serve as sort of journals to me. You may not prefer social media, but whatever you do, stay in touch with friends. We really have no excuses today not to.
No. 3: I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I can almost 100 percent honestly say this is not the case for me but can totally see how it is for the elderly with my mom immediately coming to mind. Her generation was a generation of “Mrs.” as their identities in the most June Cleaver of June ways. Maybe that’s why today she is so adamant about not doing what she doesn’t want to in her new place as no one can make her. She doesn’t care to go to any activities and she makes her feelings pretty known about it. Oddly enough, her not wanting to is probably a combination of not having the confidence to go to something alone and simply not wanting to. Oddly enough too is the fact that she has never held back telling me and my sisters how to be and how not to be, but that’s a whole other blog!
If we’ve learned anything the past few years is that everyone has feelings and makes no bones about making sure everyone knows what they are. We have raised and continue to raise a generation of weaklings so easily offended they almost aren’t taken seriously anymore. We’ve become the opposite of the “Greatest Generation” in that they rarely expressed their feelings and it’s pretty much all we do. I’m doing it right here and right now. My feeling is yes, speak up and express your feelings but please be accountable for your triggers and your challenges.
No. 2: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
We hear this again and again but I would bet many of you reading this are thinking “I’ll get back to finishing this; I’ve got work to do.” Those who stated this guilt in the elderly responses regret that their working overtime (literally and figuratively) resulted in them neglecting family members, friends, and the simple joys of life. Work how you must but try to maintain a healthy balance in working and working on your family, friends, and your soul care.
And, the number 1 regret?
No. 1: I wish I’d had the courage to live life true to me not to what others expected of me.
Interesting and ouch, right? And think about it, their lack of doing so was before social media files, photo filters, and face fillers. We’re all guilty of it though. We want others to think highly of us and making a good impression is important in both work and personal arenas. But, it’s when we become obsessed with what others think of us and how we look that we start to stray away from our true selves. This is never good. There will always be someone smarter, richer, and prettier than you so you need to just be you. Don’t worry about doing what others do if you aren’t interested. Do what you like and what makes you like yourself.
Don’t, of course, become self-centered or narcissistic, but also don’t allow others map out your life, your loves, and your laughter.
It’s time to retire habits that ensure you have the same regrets these wise elders do. Be happy, call your friends, speak up, don’t work yourself to death, and be yourself. Time is of the essence.
Carla, I LOVED your Christmas card writing parties. It was so much fun with your drinks and cookies and everyone laughing and having fun!