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“At the end of your life, you will regret the things you didn’t do rather than the things you did.”
Let that sink in for a moment…
For many of us, life boils down to what we do (or don’t do) tomorrow, in a week, or a month at best.
Some live paycheck to paycheck, while others survive Monday through Friday only to enjoy the weekend and start over.
It seems we rarely take the time to put life into perspective and try to understand what’s truly important to us.
Perhaps we’re afraid that if we put life in perspective, we might realize that we unconsciously prioritize activities that don’t contribute to our overall sense of happiness and fulfillment.
I never fully resonated with the ‘YOLO mentality,’ especially when people use it as a license to behave recklessly.
However, I firmly believe that we should remind ourselves every day that life doesn’t last forever and build our priorities around this hard truth.
What You Will Learn
Cultivating Sustainable Happiness
I believe happiness is a priority and a goal that deserves all your time and effort.
Perhaps you’ve already told yourself a million times that you should be happier and enjoy life more. Or maybe you think about happiness whenever you stumble upon a motivational quote on social media.
But happiness is not just an abstract concept or a word that you ‘hashtag’ on your social media posts. Talking, posting, or thinking about happiness won’t make you a happier person.
Happiness is a purpose-driven mindset that you exercise and cultivate regularly. It is an attitude and a way of living that boils down to two questions:
- What’s truly important to me and should be a priority in my life?
- How much time and effort am I investing in my priorities?
Some experts claim happiness is a sustainable process comprised of four stages. 
Here’s how the authors describe each stage of the cycle:
As you can see, happiness doesn’t always have to be a philosophical concept. Sometimes, a practical outlook might be precisely what you need to turn happiness into something more ‘tangible’ and achievable.
But to set the happiness cycle in motion, you need to clarify your priorities and set specific goals.
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Here’s an eye-opener. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a book that has made me rethink some of my choices and reorganize my priorities in life.
One of my clients is dealing with a severe form of treatment-resistant depression. He spends hours ruminating and regretting past decisions, so I thought I would refresh my memory on the subject and find new ways to approach this case.
That’s how I found The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware, a former palliative carer who shares some of the most common and also heartbreaking regrets of people who are on their deathbed.
You know those moments when you think you have it all figured out, then something comes along and makes you reevaluate your perspective?
That’s exactly how I felt after reading this book.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
One of the biggest regrets of the dying is not living in tune with what they believed was truly important.
Dreams are forgotten, and ideas are lost as we drown ourselves in work, debt, and responsibilities that we never wanted in the first place.
Be honest! How many of the priorities you focus on right now are actually yours?
Takeaway: Honor your ideals and dreams—at least some of them.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
Whether we like it or not, we spend a good portion of our lives working. We offer time and effort in exchange for the money that we need to survive and ensure a decent quality of life.
But there’s a difference between working and losing yourself in work.
Time is a limited resource that you cannot buy back, so spend it wisely.
Takeaway: Invest in meaningful work but leave space in your life for other activities.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
Emotions are like your shadow. They exist regardless of whether you acknowledge their presence or not, and no matter how much you try to run from them, they’ll always be there with you.
Unfortunately, we often resort to avoidance and emotional suppression because we don’t know how to express ourselves, we fear rejection and criticism, or we believe we don’t deserve acceptance and understanding.
Since you cannot control how others react, there’s no point in keeping your emotions bottled up inside.
Takeaway: Own your vulnerabilities, speak honestly, and express your emotions.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
When facing death, people often focus on putting their financial affairs in order. But they don’t do it for the sake of status and money; they do it because they want to ensure a good standard of living for their loved ones.
But you don’t have to wait until you’re on your deathbed to show care for the ones you love. And it’s not always about money.
It’s about investing in meaningful relationships by making room in your life for the people who love and appreciate you.
Takeaway: Love and relationships can contribute to happiness more than money can.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier
This regret often stems from a misconception that people generally have about what it means to be happy.
We say, “I will be happy when…” thus passing the responsibility for our happiness to someone or something else.
Don’t wait for something to happen for you to be happy. Instead, start doing the things that will make you happy; right here, right now.
Takeaway: Happiness is a choice you make every day.
9 Priorities in Life You Need to Focus On, RIGHT NOW:
Your first and foremost priority in life should be YOU.
Not in a selfish and self-centered manner, but with self-compassion and understanding.
Prioritizing self-care means investing in activities and habits that nurture the body and mind.
For instance, you could start a journal. Writing allows you to engage in self-discovery and have a meaningful interaction with your inner self. It is also a safe space where you can explore aspects of your life that you wouldn’t usually discuss with other people.
As for the body, anything from yoga and meditation to healthy food, a relaxing massage, or a warm bath can be an excellent self-care practice.
By dedicating a portion of your time to self-care, you learn to prioritize yourself.
Sometimes, it’s healthy to put your needs before others’.
2. Education and learning
If you aim towards personal and professional growth, then education should be a top priority.
We know for a fact that education and learning are the driving forces behind human progress.
But education isn’t a process that takes place exclusively in academic contexts. The notion that school is for learning and work is where you put your knowledge into practice is a misconception, a limiting belief that prevents you from achieving growth.
Learning is a continuous process in which you anchor yourself for the rest of your life.
The moment you think you have learned enough is the moment you stop growing.
Take responsibility for your personal and professional success by making education a priority in life.
3. Meaningful work
I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying, “Do what you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
But even people who love what they do for a living will sometimes face hardships. The fact that you love your job doesn’t mean you go to the office every day with a big smile on your face and welcome adversity with optimism and positivity.
Doing meaningful work means dedicating yourself to activities that are intrinsically motivating.
Regardless of whether you’re a freelance worker, entrepreneur, employee, or CEO, work will take up a good portion of your life, so make sure to do something that brings authentic happiness.
4. Exciting hobbies
Another aspect that you should prioritize – because it contributes to a meaningful and flourishing life – are hobbies.
Realistically speaking, not everyone can afford the luxury of pursuing their dream job. When your mortgage is past-due, and bills start piling up on your kitchen counter, money becomes a bigger priority than meaning.
However, hobbies are an aspect of your life over which you have full control. If, for some reason, you don’t have the means to focus on meaningful work, at least make sure you spare some time for exciting activities.
It doesn’t even have to be something expensive. Countless hobbies cost little-to-no money but can bring tons of joy.
Who knows, maybe you can even turn your hobbies into meaningful and profitable work.
Start by looking for something you love doing just for the sake of doing it and make it a priority.
5. Fulfilling relationships
In 1938, a group of researchers from Harvard started the biggest study on longevity, health, and happiness in human history.
The question that sparked this endeavor was simple: What factors contribute to a long and happy life?
It is no surprise that, after 80 years and thousands of participants, researchers discovered that fulfilling relationships are a predictor for lasting happiness and health.
As Robert Waldinger (the fourth director of the study) puts it, “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”
The quality of your life depends on the quality of your relationships.
Invest (emotionally) in those who care about you and let go of toxic people before they drag you down.
6. Alone time
“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.” – Brené Brown
When was the last time you spent time with yourself?
And by ‘time with yourself’ I mean, no phone, no TV, no music, no distractions, just you and your thoughts.
I believe spending time with yourself can be unpleasant and empowering at the same time.
On the one hand, you might discover thoughts, emotions, sensations, and self-sabotaging behaviors you’re not usually aware of because you keep yourself distracted most of the day.
On the other hand, immersing yourself in the wilderness of your mind builds resilience and facilitates self-acceptance.
At the end of the day, I think we all need to learn to live with ourselves, regardless of past mistakes, present shortcomings, or future worries.
To see new places that you have only read about in books or seen on TV; to meet people with unique life stories; to get in touch with new cultures and traditions; these are only a fraction of the beautiful experiences that traveling brings into your life.
The sense of novelty that you experience every time you visit a new place or country makes traveling a priority for those who wish to cultivate authentic happiness.
And it is this sense of novelty that can enrich your experience massively, broaden your perspective, and give rise to new ideas.
8. New experiences
Not everyone affords to travel the world and visit exotic places every year. Perhaps, money is so tight you don’t even afford a low-cost flight and a two-night stay in an Airbnb.
But that doesn’t mean you should deprive yourself of new experiences. I’m sure there’s a place in your city or area where you’ve never been.
Or maybe there’s a new skill you always wanted to try but never had the time or a new book you wanted to read but always told yourself maybe next week.
Long story short, make sure to (at least occasionally) prioritize new experiences that get you out of your comfort zone and help you expand your view of the world.
Although the priorities listed above converge towards happiness, we could argue that happiness – as an overarching goal – is a priority.
Start each morning with the desire to invest in something meaningful and end each day by listing the things you are grateful for.
A purpose-driven life is what creates that overall sense of happiness and fulfillment that you experience every time you contemplate your life’s journey.
At the same time, if you wish to achieve sustainable happiness, you must consciously choose happiness every day.
Final Thoughts on Happiness and Priorities in Life
As you probably realized by now, all the priorities that we’ve talked about can enrich your life by giving it meaning.
Some experts believe happiness and meaning in life are the key ingredients of well-being. While happiness leads to self-satisfying outcomes, meaning leads to self-transcending outcomes. 
In other words, we achieve well-being through experiences that generate a sense of personal fulfillment and causes greater than ourselves.
But no one will create these opportunities for you.
You need to create them yourself by setting clear goals and priorities in life.
 E. Eckhaus and Z. Sheaffer, “Happiness Enrichment and Sustainable Happiness,” Applied Research in Quality of Life, vol. 14, p. 1079–1097, 2018.
 P. F. Jonah Li, Y. Joel Wong and R. C. Chao, “Happiness and meaning in life: Unique, differential, and indirect associations with mental health,” Counselling Psychology Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 3-4, pp. 396-414, 2019.
Alexander Draghici is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, CBT practitioner, and content writer for various mental health websites. His work focuses mainly on strategies designed to help people manage and prevent two of the most common emotional problems – anxiety and depression.