In an article back in 2010, I wrote about regret-minimization framework. It’s a term used by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos to describe the way he makes decisions. The idea is that you should make decisions that will minimize your potential regret in the future.
He used this framework when he considered launching Amazon back in 1994. He already had a good job back then, but he decided that not launching Amazon could be something that he would regret years later. So he took the risk and launched the company. As it turns out, Amazon became a big success. But even if it didn’t, at least he wouldn’t have any regret.
This, in my opinion, is a good framework for making difficult decisions.
But speaking of regret, we should ask ourselves: what regrets do people commonly have at the end of their lives? What do they wish they had done? This is an important question because knowing the answer will help us apply the regret-minimization framework effectively.
An article by Bronnie Ware provides an answer to this question. She worked in palliative care and consequently met many people who were in the last weeks of their lives. She heard a lot of stories from them, including their regrets. From years of experience with these people, she wrote that their five most common regrets were:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I didn’t work so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish I had let myself be happier.
You might want to read the original article for a more complete explanation of each. Each point here is worth reflecting on. Do you make any of these mistakes? Which areas do you need to improve?
To minimize these potential regrets, here are a few things that I believe you and I should do:
1. Be content with what you have.
If you are content with what you have, you won’t feel the pressure to always get more and more. You might think that material things can give you happiness, but pursuing material things might actually take happiness away from you. By being content you don’t have to work so hard that you neglect the more important aspects of your life.
This is not easy though. Our environment constantly bombards us with the message that you need more stuff and a better lifestyle in order to be happy. So you need to make a conscious decision to be content with what you have.
2. Do what matters to you.
It’s important that you live your life and not someone else’s life. Do what matters to you rather than what other people expect of you. What are your passions? What causes do you care about? Find them and organize your life around them. More than obtaining wealth or fame, your goal should be to live a fulfilling and meaningful life. That will give you real happiness.
3. Cultivate your relationships.
As stated in the article, love and relationships are all that remain in the final weeks. So you need to invest more time and energy into your relationships, both with your family and your friends. If you learn to be content and no longer occupied with work, you will find more time to invest into your relationships. The reward might not be immediate, but it’s more than worth it in the end.
4. Choose to be happy.
The article said that many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. You shouldn’t wait that long before you realize it. Your happiness is your choice. It’s you who determines whether you are happy, not other people or your circumstances. So take the responsibility and make the right choice.