4 Ways to Minimize Lifetime Regrets

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:

  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 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.


  1. Regrets 1, 4, and 5 are the ones I’m most determined not to experience.
    Personally, I think the biggest regret that I do not want to have will be: “I wish I had tried to _____.” (applies to anything)
    Thank you sharing this.

  2. Hi Donald, the four tips at the end of the article are great ideas and I think that anyone who follows those tips will lead a better life. For me, cultivating relationships is something I need to work on at the moment, so that will be my big take away from this article.
    One thing I’d like to question is the role that regret should play in our decision making. From what I understand people tend to overestimate the amount of regret that they will feel at a later time.
    This is because of our innate predisposition to rationalize the decisions we make. One place where this is evident is in peoples passions for their University. Although a lot of teenagers seriously consider the ins and outs of various school before making a choice, one they settle down at their College they rarely regret their decision.
    I think that the problem of using regret as our decision making is that it causes us to chase around to try and take in every possible experience.
    Yesterday, I made a special trip to the observatory to see the transit of Venus. Looking back on it the main reason for my trip was to avoid the regret of not having seen it.
    In reality, however, I found the transit to be a fairly banal experience– just a little dot on a piece of paper.
    In reality I probably would have been better off playing some soccer with friends. In other words it might be better to make your decisions based on what you enjoy most in some situations.
    Sorry for the ramble, and thanks again for providing a thought provoking article.

    • John, that’s an interesting way of seeing it. I agree that in some cases potential regret is not the best way to make a decision. Regret-minimization framework is just one way to make a decision; it’s not the only way. My view is that it’s especially useful when making difficult/big decisions in life, but not as much for day-to-day decisions.

  3. I think there is no way around that life is a balancing act of conflicting pressures. There are potential regrets on all sides. So what it really comes down to is risk assessment. Which risks are you willing to take and live with the consequences?
    As you explained, Bezos decided that even if Amazon failed he’d have less regret trying it than not trying it. When you make a decision like that you have to be prepared to accept the consequences however it works out. O

    • Yes, life is a balancing act. It’s impossible to eliminate regret completely, so the best thing we can do is trying to minimize it. You brought up a good point: risk assessment is an important part of it.

  4. Hey Donald, great tips. If only more people follow them.
    As you said it at the end : “happiness is a choice”. So choose it, people !

  5. In the end I think everything is about choice. Choosing what you love, what makes you happy and what you find fulfillment in. Some people might think that “living for yourself” is selfish, but if done the right way it’s not. At the end of our lives, all we have is who we’ve chosen to be, or who we’ve chosen NOT to be.

  6. The media bombards us with these ridiculous ideas of what kind of life we should all live: with fame, money, and luxury. Although I personally don’t buy the stuff they’re feeding the masses, I am somewhat affected because my mother, who is one of the most important people in my life, expects me to be this and that. It pains me to disappoint my mom, so I am usually torn between living a life that’s really true to myself and a life that is expected of me.

    • That’s a rather difficult situation to be in, but I guess that’s the reality for many of us. Perhaps you could slowly share your view with your mom. Since the principle is sound, I think she would understand it.

    • Karen, I completely agree with you. In fact, I have been thinking a lot about the effects that the media (world) has on us, since finishing Ernest Clement’s latest book, “The Book of Ernest.” He has some pretty interesting thoughts on this. I agree that it is sometimes really difficult to be yourself because of these pressures and am really working on overcoming this stigma myself. Good luck!

  7. Thanks for this. Gets to the heart of the issue.
    Very hard not to be pushed along with the world’s view that we must own more and more to feel successful.
    I often felt some deep inner strain about being pushed to get more money and only recently did I begin to feel loved enough to start letting that go, and living on my own terms.

  8. Donald:
    I think I am pretty good with being content with what I have. For the most part, I only buy the things I feel that I need. I do not care about money, but I need it to survive.
    I am not living my life based on how much money I can make. I am living my life based on how many people I can help. Money is a material object and I never want my life to revolve around any material object.
    Great read very insightful!
    Best Wishes!
    William Veasley

  9. This is a great list – I agree with all of them except for #2.
    You say:
    “Do what matters to you.
    More than obtaining wealth or fame, your goal should be to live a fulfilling and meaningful life. That will give you real happiness.”
    But you’re contradicting yourself. A lot of people want to obtain wealth and fame; to them, that’s what matters. You’re assuming that introspection about what matters will lead them to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life.
    I agree with you, of course – wealth and fame are a poor path towards happiness.

    • Just a quick response: I’ve been studying happiness for about a year and realised that there are two broad opinions on what makes one happy: Existentialism – I’m happy because I do fulfilling, meaningful things and Essentialism: I’m happy just because I am.
      Websites, such as this one, tend to favour the former. The obvious cencern is that if your meaingful job/hobby/experiment/sideline falls away, will you still be happy?
      I am very aware of how happy meaningful occupations can make me, but I think we need to cultivate a balance.
      I’d like to hear what you think.

  10. These are absolutely great tips , Donald!. And yes, happiness is a choice!. Thanks for sharing…

  11. What a great topic Donald.
    What occurs to me as I read it is that even though we know this, we don’t change, why?
    Possibly because we are getting something out of not changing. So we can ask ourselves:
    What am I getting from not living a life true to myself?
    For example, we may get some reassurance, acceptance or support, which we believe we won’t get otherwise.
    Once we know the “positive intention” of not changing we can take it a step further:
    “How can I get the support I want, but also be true to myself?”
    And so on…

  12. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone! There are a lot of interesting ideas in your comments.

  13. nice……
    this post is my fav 🙂

  14. Wow this is an eye opener. I’m guilty of having all those regrets. I can say that this is due to fear. I’m terrified about what others may think of me, I know I shouldn’t care and just don’t know how to get over it.

  15. Its hard to not get caught up in just waking up, going to work and coming home…but its important to remember that working isn’t all life is. Thanks for the great post! I think this is something Im still trying to figure out. Experiences and loving life is more important than just acquiring things and working all the time.

  16. There are many valid points in this post. You talk about letting yourself be happy. I have found in the past this to be difficult. Although it is a lesson that I learned after my husband’s death, amongst the other 3 things you pointed out. The tragedy of his death, brought a new understanding to my life. I hope that others read your blog and learn these things without the tragedy.

  17. I made many big mistakes in my career,my life,my marriage and my kids…
    if i get a chance i want to change myself in every stage of my life but which is impossible..
    i have to live with this pain ,this regret .. thats the only choice left to me now.
    can anyone help me to overcome this pain…

    • I believe you will need to start by letting go of your regret. Regrets cause a lot of pain. It sounds like you are making yourself accountable for your actions. You need to move forward and learn from those mistakes by putting on foot in front of the other. You are not going to be able to change your regrets, but you can push yourself to get through them and make the changes to be who you want to become.

  18. All the four are really wonderful things to follow if anyone wants to live a beautiful life,but if one thing I have to stick then I would say it’s being happy what you are ,obviously this includes

  19. […] Latumahina (en Life Optimizer) nos invita a dirigir nuestra atención hacia cuatro pilares sobre los que esa vida puede […]

  20. Thanks so much for a great post. A few years ago I made a terrible mistake, which I am still paying for right now, so I know exactly how important it is to make decisions that I will not regret later in my life. Thanks again, I am still trying to figure things out for myself

  21. This is an eye opener to everyone. Because most of us could relate to it. I see regrets as a lesson not a frustration because if I dwell into things that I am not happy with the results then it will hit back on me. So its better to just think positive as much as you can and be able to live life to the fullest.

  22. This is quite an interesting story..thank you D. actually would say i live in regrets all the time,not happy at all although i have everything one could dream about.im always negetive to myself and those sorrounds me.I dont have the courage to express my feeling, it kills me. atleast this article gives me a way forward to change my life..

  23. Thanks so much, this gives me the inspiration to choose happiness! For the past few years I have sacrificed a lot and gave almost everything to someone who’s not worth it! And now this gives me the courage to choose my own happiness.

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