Dec

15

 Have you seen this article about the top 5 regrets of the dying? It is a must read. 

Gary Rogan writes: 

I really liked all of them, except based on everything that I know I disagree with the statement that "happiness is a choice". Irrational fears are not a choice, depression is not a choice, and neither is happiness.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

Well, happiness is dependent on one's attitude, and in many cases, you can choose, control or direct your attitude.

My theory is unhappiness and depression happen when reality does not live up to one's expectations of what life is "supposed" to be like. I think the key to happiness is letting go of those expectations. That action at least is within an individuals purview and control. There is an old Zen maxim: If you are not happy in the here and now, you never will be.

Russ Sears adds:

I think most irrational fears and depression stem from the unintended consequences of one's choices or often, the lack of decisions, such as little or no exercise. However, I believe many of these choices are made when we are children, and we do not fully understand the consequences. Many of these bad choices may be taught often though example by adults or sometimes it is just one's unproductive coping methods that are simply not countered with productive coping methods by the adults in their lives. I think some people are more prone to fall into these ruts, but most of these ruts are dug none the less.

Jim Sogi writes: 

The regrets are perhaps easily said on the deathbed but implementing these choices in life is very difficult. Many can not afford the luxury of such choices. When there is no financial security hard work is a necessity. Such regrets are not much different than daydreams such as, oh I wish I could live in Hawaii and surf everyday. The fact of the matter is that the grass always seems greener on the other side. Speak to the lifestyle guys in their old age. Will they say I wish I worked harder and had a career and made more meaning of life than being a ski bum or surf bum? 

Gary Rogan responds: 

What you say is true about the effects of exercise. But that's just one of many factors that are biochemical in nature. Pre-natal environment, genetics, and related chemical balances and imbalances are highly important in the subjective perception of the level of happiness. There are proteins in your brain that effect how the levels of happiness-inducing hormones and neurotransmitters are regulated and there is nothing you can do about it without a major medical intervention. Certainly some choices that people make affect their eventual subjective perceptions through the resultant stresses and satisfying achievements in their lives, so the choice part of it can clearly be argued. My main point was that by the time the person is an adult, their disposition is as good as inherited. They can vary the levels of subjective perception of happiness around that level through their actions, but they are still stuck with the range, mostly through no fault or choice of their own.

Since a few literally quotations on the subject have been posted, let me end with the quote from William Blake that was used before the chapter on the biological basis of personality I recently read:

Every Night & every Morn

Some to Misery are Born.

Every Morn & every Night

Some are Born to sweet Delight.

Ken Drees writes in: 

I believe that you must put effort towards a goal and that exercise in itself begets a reward that bends toward happiness. It's the journey, not the end result. You must cultivate to grow. A perfectly plowed field left untended grows weeds–the pull is down if nothing is done.

Russ Sears adds:

 It has been my experience with helping others put exercise into their lives that few teens and young adults have reached such a narrow range that they cannot achieve happiness in their lives. This would include people that have been abused and people that have a natural dispensation to anxiety. Their "range" increases often well beyond what we are currently capable of achieving with "major medical intervention". As we age however our capacity to exercise decreases. While the effects of exercise can still be remarkable; they too are limited by the accelerated decay due to unhappiness within an older body's capacity. Allowing time for our bodies is an art. Art that can bring the delights of youth back to the old and a understanding of the content happiness of a disciplined life to the young.

Peter Saint-Andre replies: 

Horsefeathers.

Yes, hard work is often a necessity. But hard work does not prevent one from pursuing other priorities in parallel (writing, music, athletics, investing, whatever you're interested in). Very few people in America have absolutely no leisure time — in fact they have a lot more leisure time than our forebears, but they waste it on television and Facebook and other worthless activities.

Between working 100 hours a week (which few do) and being a ski bum (which few also do) there lies the vast majority of people. Too many of them have ample opportunity to bring forth some of the songs inside them, but instead they fritter their time away and thus end up leading lives of quiet desperation.

It does not need to be so.

Dan Grossman adds: 

Jim Sogi has a good point. The deathbed regret that one didn't spend more time with one's family is frequently an unrealistic cliche, similar to fired high level executives expressing the same sentimental goal.

The fact is that being good at family life is a talent not everyone has. And family life can be difficult, messy and not easy to make progress with. Which is perhaps one of the reasons more women these days prefer to have jobs rather than deal all day with family.

Being honest or at least more realistic on their deathbeds, some people should perhaps be saying "I wish I had spent more time building my company."

Rocky Humbert comments:

 I feel compelled to note that this discussion about deathbed regrets has been largely ego-centric (from the viewpoint of the bed's occupant) — rather than the perspective of those surrounding the deathbed. I've walked through many a cemetery, (including the storied Kensico Cemetery) and note the preponderance of epitaphs that read: "Loving Husband,"; "Devoted Father," ; "Devoted Mother," and the absence of any tombstones that read: "King of Banking" or "Money Talks: But Not From the Grave."

Notably, Ayn Rand's tombstone in Kensico is devoid of any comments — bearing just her year of birth and death. (She is, however, buried next to her husband.) 

In discussing this with my daughter (who recently acquired her driver's license/learning permit), I shared with her the ONLY memory of my high school driver's ed class. (The lesson was taught in the style of an epitaph.):

"Here lies the body of Otis Day.

He died defending his right of way.

He was right; dead right; as he drove along.

But now he's just as dead, as if he'd been wrong." 

Kim Zussman writes:

Is an approach of future regret-minimization equivalent to risk-aversion?

Workaholic dads have something to show for their life efforts that Mr. Moms don't, and vice-versa.

If so, perhaps the only free epithet is to diversify devotions — at the expense of reduced expectation of making a big mark on the world or your family.


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2 Comments so far

  1. Nish on December 15, 2011 10:23 pm

    Why does end always matter more than the entire life? What you felt and did during your life carries more weight than just what you feel at end. This syndrome is explained well by Daniel Kahneman in his ted talk.

  2. Eric Schayer on December 16, 2011 1:00 am

    I’m reminded of Barbara Bush’s advice to a college class upon graduation. She said that ur friendships will be more important in the end than ur career success .. I also recall a successful trader of the markets saying in an interview that his conscience still zings him about the times his very young daughter wandered into his study, where he was too busy to play w her.

    For myself - friends, doing what you love, & the gym - and even that’s a struggle.

    Food for thought - you understand life looking backward - & live it going forward ..

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