The second most common regret expressed by those on their death beds is “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” That’s according to Bronnie Ware, an Australian hospice nurse who kept track of the regrets expressed by her patients over the years and compiled them into her book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.”
Are her observations – particularly this one – statistically accurate? Who knows? But it’s safe to say, that people nearing life’s end do regret having focused too much of their life on work, and, as a result, having missed many great experiences with family, friends, nature, and the world around them. That subject has been a staple of literature as long as – well, as long there’s been literature. It’s even the theme of what many film experts call the greatest movie ever made, Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane.
The movie begins with a dying Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, whispering longingly the word “Rosebud.” The rest of the movie is built around a journalist’s examination of Kane’s spectacular – and scandalous – rags-to-riches life to discover what Kane’s last utterance meant. (Spoiler alert if somehow you’ve never seen this 75-year-old classic) “Rosebud” turns out to have been the name painted on his sled as a poor child. And it represented the only time in Kane’s life when he was truly happy.
Ultimately, isn’t that what we all really cherish the most? Not a sled, or any other material possession, but the experience of doing something fun, something interesting, something that has long-lasting personal meaning, something that sends our spirits soaring? Think about it. What are those two or three things you remember most fondly? They probably aren’t “things,” or possessions but rather experiences.
Sure, we all have highly valued possessions: homes, jewelry, furnishings, vehicles, pieces of art, etc. Some we need, like clothing, shelter and food. Yet a lot (most?) of our possessions are “luxuries” in that they are excess to our basic needs, and in that they are designed to make our lives easier, better or happier.
But if we are wise, we also spend a good bit of time and money on creating the kind of experiences that we talk about and remember fondly for the rest of our lives. We arrange family get-togethers. We travel to exotic, new, interesting or just different places, typically with our families or people whose company we really enjoy. We linger over good meals with our loved-ones, swapping stories and jokes and philosophical thoughts and deep feelings; letting our silly inner-child run free or engaging our intellects in the most serious thought challenges.
There’s a ton of evidence from the field of psychology showing just how important having memorable experiences – big and small – is to our overall well-being. A research report published in 2010 by psychologist Art Markham showed definitively that spending money on experiences increases happiness more than spending money on “things.” Interestingly, the same study noted that it’s actually more important to spend your money on multiple, smaller and usually less expensive “experiences” than to spend a larger amount on one big experience. Why? Because we all need multiple and frequent experiences. We’re wired to need them. Thus it’s good to take vacations – plural – each year, to have hobbies, to get together regularly with friends and family, and to plan frequent enjoyable activities.
Admittedly, as chief strategy officer of the world’s largest cruise ship company, my argument is self-serving. We are in the business of delivering incredible “experiences” aboard one of our 100-plus ships. But you’ll benefit even more. A romantic cruise in the Mediterranean or an adventurous cruise in Alaska or the Panama Canal can create the kind of memories you’ll remember forever.
But I’d be foolish not to recognize that smaller experiences, like an overnight camping trip, or a trip to the zoo are important and that they can create big memories, too. So I encourage you to look for and make the most of such opportunities.
Experiences last forever….possessions don’t
— Josh Leibowitz