behavior · happiness · Me

The top 5 regrets people make on their deathbeds – inspired by Lifehacks

WLA moma Henri Rousseau The Dream 3
People's #1 deathbed regret: not being true to themselves. Image via Wikipedia

They say hindsight is 20/20, and I find it very informative to find out what people wish they had done or are very happy they did, either at the end of a school year or sitting in a rocking chair on a porch in retirement. So this bit of anecdotal evidence is interesting, and while none of the regrets are surprising it’s good affirmation of what people’s priorities in life should be.

…the following regrets were first posted in The Observer in 2010, and we’ve recopied them for you here below. But instead of just the grandmotherly bits of advice about dreams having gone unfulfilled, we’ve supplemented each regret with some rockstar advice on how to not have these regrets in the digital age.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

TNW Advice: We interview so many entrepreneurs here at The Next Web, some of whom will succeed, most of whom will fail. But it’s about going out and creating a reality out of what was once just an idea in your head.

read all 5 regrets, plus the added bits of TNW advice at The top 5 regrets people make on their deathbeds – Lifehacks.

What the five regrets basically constitute are making time for themselves, their friends and family, taking risks rather than playing it safe, and just giving space in their lives for happiness.

This is a really good exercise to do at any time, to see if you’re really living the life you want and what you can do to change it.

If you were told you were going to die tomorrow, this evening, whatever, what would your regrets be?

Mine would be:

1. Not taking that hiking vacation through Europe.

2. Not taking a sabbatical, more time for me.

3. Not finishing my thesis.

4. Not spending more time with my sister the last couple of years before she died, which translates into generally just spending more time with others I love before they kick the bucket.

5. Not starting a family.


On Vacation

The coconut tree
Coconut tree. Image via Wikipedia

Tomorrow I will be in Maui.

Tomorrow I will lie on the beach, belly exposed to the tropical sun, letting the rays warm me to my core and awaken me from a long winter doldrum semi-slumber, like a sunbear coming out of hibernation.

I will eat fresh pineapple, and coconut that actually tastes like coconut and not stale sweet water.

I will float on the top of the water in shallow pools like seaweed, wearing my mask and snorkel watching colorful flat fish peck at corral, hearing the tap, tap, tap noises they make with their fishy beaks.

I will hike to the top of recently retired volcanoes, through lush forests, up waterfalls, under strange birdcalls, to view the ocean from as far west as I’ve ever been.

I will feel the rough bark of trees and grain of rocks. I will smell flowers. I will hear the wind and warm afternoon rains.

I will not miss the cold, gray rain of today. I will not miss the hum of fluorescent lights, buzzy speakers, traffic, printers and computers. I will definitely not miss the sense of helplessness while stuck in traffic, fighting deadlines and work, and responding to correspondences.

But that is tomorrow. Today I am here, now, ready.

Note: *inspired by yesterday’s prompt from StoryPraxis. I didn’t end up posting this to their site because they tend to favor creative writing, but it’s a good writing exercise nonetheless.

community · environment · happiness · Me · Nature

Appreciating the daily commute

South Lake Union, Seattle, Washington 2
South Lake Union, Seattle, WA. Image by tedeytan via Flickr

I originally wrote this essay as a response to the daily prompt at StoryPraxis, a very cool project that encourages people to write for just ten minutes a day. The particular prompt inspired me to write about my current hometown, Seattle, and how enriching its natural environment is. For example, I probably have one of the prettiest commutes in the United States. You can read the original post here.

Seattle is probably the prettiest city to have to commute through. You drive over lakes, over sounds, past mountains, past forests. You cross microclimates, and probably experience at least three kinds of weather in 20 minutes or less.

Cresting over one of the many hills the Olympics suddenly burst out onto the horizon in front of you, the bright morning sun making the snow caps shine just below the cloud layer so it looks like a clear, sunshine day “over there.” The sky above you is filled with gray clouds, but today they are more textured than a gray blanket, allowing the light to bounce off creating interesting shapes and textures.

Each neighborhood you pass is very distinct, either due to geographical divisions like water or hills, or more cultural markers like Buddhist prayer flags mixed with solar panels on 1950s bungalows which two blogs later transform into modern condos with Priuses parked out front.

Coming up over the I-5 bridge you’re now high above the city, the commercial waterways 100s of feet below. From here you can see almost all of Seattle’s signature neighborhoods in a 360 degree view – University district, Wallingford, Fremont, Ballard, Queen Anne, South Lake Union, Downtown, Capitol Hill. You see the Olympics on your right, and now the sun is reaching its fingers over the Cascades on your left, injecting the gray clouds with pink and purple, adding bursts of color to the gray sky above.

The freeway has ivy and trees growing over the sides, threatening to spill onto the roadway. You merge onto one of the eastbound bridges, and suddenly you’re cresting over a giant lake, now so close to the water you’re almost floating. To your right off in the distance across the water is Mt. Rainier, shooting its head above the clouds, fighting to keep them from swallowing it whole. A great blue heron casually floats over the morning commuters, and a bald eagle stands vigil on top of one of the lamp posts dotting the bridge.

You pull off your exit, the trees and shrubs now practically enfolding the off ramp. On a sunny day they call to you, “come climb in my branches, come run through my meadow fields.” It’s good that it’s so damp and gray today, or you’d never get to work. The tulips and crocus popping up in the road dividers, almost weed-like in their determination to grow anywhere and everywhere, add some color now that the sun has risen above the clouds, taking the pink streaks with it.

You’re sad to go inside, but know you’ll have a literal birds-eye view into the trees growing just across the street of your office building.

You’re thankful to have one of the most beautiful commutes in the world, and just sad you have to experience it all from a car.

anthropology · brain · emotion · happiness · health · mental health · psychology

Jobs, including losing one, can kill you

Dos albañiles desempleados esperan ofertas de ...
Losing your job can have a profound effect on your physical health. Image via Wikipedia

My new year’s resolution this year was to start taking better care of myself; more sleep, healthier food (no more sneaking chocolate out of the secretary’s candy dish!) and getting regular exercise if for nothing else just to move and remember what it feels like to use your muscles.
But up until recently I had never acknowledged some of the things that had caused me the most stress. One of them was changing jobs after seven years and becoming a freelance writer/editor, while also moving away from a city I’d lived in for that long as well. That loss of identity, of sense of self and how you fit into the world, can have a profound effect on mental and physical health, as one New York Times article recently discussed, focused more on job loss, but very similar emotionally and the physical repercussions:

The first to have a heart attack was George Kull Jr., 56, a millwright who worked for three decades at the steel mills in Lackawanna, N.Y. Three weeks after learning that his plant was closing, he suddenly collapsed at home… Less than a month later, Don Turner, 55, a crane operator who had started at the mills as a teenager, was found by his wife, Darlene, slumped on a love seat, stricken by a fatal heart attack.

It is impossible to say exactly why these men, all in relatively good health, had heart attacks within weeks of one another. But interviews with friends and relatives of Mr. Kull and Mr. Turner, and with Mr. Smith, suggest that the trauma of losing their jobs might have played a role.

A growing body of research suggests that layoffs can have profound health consequences. One 2006 study by a group of epidemiologists at Yale found that layoffs more than doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke among older workers. Another paper, published last year by Kate W. Strully, a sociology professor at the State University of New York at Albany, found that a person who lost a job had an 83 percent greater chance of developing a stress-related health problem, like diabetes, arthritis or psychiatric issues. In perhaps the most sobering finding, a study published last year found that layoffs can affect life expectancy…

Continue reading at the New York Times.

It was hard to explain to people why I wasn’t thrilled and exhilarated to be living with my husband again, out of a seemingly dead end job and taking my life into my own hands. I wasn’t thrilled or exhilarated. And I wasn’t even scared in that good kind of way; I was just scared and isolated. At least now I know I wasn’t as weird as I was made to feel.

environment · Me · mental health · Nature · play · smell

A morning communion

deciduous azaleaEnrichment is…

Waking before dawn, and being called out by the morning birds to go participate in the celebration of dawn.

I lie in bed, awaken from being overheated under my down comforter. I had been cold and left the heat on last night, foolishly, for now I am up and alert, at 5:30 in the morning. I toss and turn a little, and lie on my back, hands resting on my chest and stomach, almost as if in meditation or prayer.

I don’t know how long I lie there, but soon enough the light outside changes from cold, harsh street lamps to a softer natural light. Suddenly I hear a bird announcing his presence in the tree above my bedroom. His song is joined by a second kind of beat, the first lolling, the other more short and chirpy. A third chimes in with his sing-songy notes. For whatever reason, I am moved to join them. Not in song, but a need to be witness to this ageless ritual of the morning, of virility, of male posturing, of spring.

It is spring; after a long rainy winter, it is finally starting to be spring. In the dark of my bedroom I feel for my grandfather’s work shirt and a pair of leggings. I find a pair of Converse waiting by the back door. Slowly, so as not to wake the dog or my husband I left behind both soundly asleep, I unlock the door, tie my shoes, and I am gone.

I could easily just stand out in my backyard, listening, still as a newly budding daffodil in this morning gray. But I must move. I must be a part of it. I want to deeply breathe in the cold wet air, to feel the morning on my hands and face. While it is a warmer morning than I’ve felt in awhile, the air is brisk with only one layer on, but walking keeps me just warm enough. I walk north past the church where last weekend the boy scouts had their gardening fundraiser, the yard now empty, abandoned in this pre-morning gray. There are no cars, no people. Just me and birds, and they are the only ones brave enough to break the silence.

I see fat robins picking at things in the street; they must have better eyes than me to make out anything edible in this pre-dawn light, or maybe just being closer to the ground helps.

A pair of runners and their dog cross my path a block up, reminding me that I am not the only human alive. Gaining momentum before charging up a small hill, they do not see me, they are lost in their own morning meditation.

I pass under a series of pink blooming plum trees, and as I pass their fragrance fills my nostrils. It is glorious. I breathe in deeply, letting the fruity blossom smell reach all the way into the back of my throat. My pace is perfect so that I am able to perform a deep, yoga-like breath under each tree, taking the smell in, considering the slightly different fragrance each tree puts off. One is farther along in its blooming cycle, and the white flowers are less fruity than the pink ones, more subtle. As I walk under them the air temperature changes to just a few degrees warmer. It is a pleasant respite from the cool morning air.

The houses on the street are all darkened, except for the occasional porch light or living room lamp left on. They are still asleep. Wise souls. Foolish souls for missing the morning.

The street dead ends onto another cross street, and I turn, starting to make my rectangular route around the neighborhood. Each garden’s plants are in a different state of bloom, from sticks to buds to a few purple and pink azalea blooms already in full show. Some gardeners have already started their new beds this year, others haven’t touched them, or let them go to weed.

My study of the local architecture is distracted by another human; a homeless man with shaggy graying, sun-bleached hair, in baggy clothes and a plastic bag tied to his shirt is walking down the other side of the street, slowly but with a purpose. He ignores me as we walk towards each other on opposite sides of the street. As he passes from my peripheral view I wonder what he is doing out wandering around the neighborhood this time of morning, then realize he could just as easily think the same of me; what is this strange girl doing in just a large flannel work shirt and leggings doing wandering the neighborhood this time of morning?

I see another runner reach his front walkway as I make the final turn onto my street. The light is finally starting to turn yellow, streaming up under the clouds, lighting them with streaks of yellow and orange. The birds are now in full chorus. My hands are chilled, but I am filled with gratitude that I got to see this morning arrive. I lift my up my back gate and carefully swing it open so it won’t scrape the pavement, still trying to keep quiet.

I take a moment, standing on my back porch, letting the bird song and wet, cold morning air drift over me. I want to share this with my entire household. I want to share this moment of awakeness, aliveness, and sense of being a part of the world. But the secret to this moment’s success is that it is a solitary event, it is alone and quiet. Just me and the birds, the plum blossoms, the rhododendron bushes, and the cold wet air.

I go inside to get warm just as the sun splits the clouds open and it starts to rain.

behavior · environment · happiness · health · Me · mental health

Special Project: Me

"Running with the seagulls", Galvest...
This is an example of a personally enriching environment. The question is how do I get there (figuratively), without running away and becoming beach bum (literally)?

This blog explores the integration of environment and wellness, both emotional and physical. So far I’ve looked at positive psychology, museums, education, urban farming, neurology, environmental sciences, architecture, play, exercise, and almost everything in between. The whole point of starting this blog was to explore the science behind what it takes to make us happy, healthy, wholly-functioning humans. What does it take to be happy? How does one’s home, job, family, dog, car, bicycle, clothing, toys, i.e. their environment, their world, fit into that? I was, and AM, curious about what it takes to be holistically happy?

But with all the quick posts, longer posts, and cool news snippets, one subject on this blog that has only hinted at: me. What does it take in my environment to make me happy?  What do I need surrounding for mental wellness?

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t been doing a good job of exploring that. In the past nine months I’ve changed residences twice, changed jobs numerous times, lost sleep, gained an injury, lost mobility, changed exercise plans so many times I’ve lost count, gained weight, lost friends, gained a gray hair or two (I’m 28!),  lost family, gained furniture, lost some dreams, had my dreams change, lost hope, changed my commute mode, and gained even more patience. But I haven’t really looked at what it would take to make me happy. What I need to do to put myself in a healthy, fulfilling, sustainable environment.

At first I thought discussing myself and my quest for happiness, wellness, and all around goodness would take away from this blog, and my focus on research, ideas, and theoretical rather than the actual doing. But the truth is I am in this blog already, whether actively or not. So why not be in all the way? It’s supposed to make you happier if you can fully commit to something, anyway.

So, just as a heads up to my few readers; you will be seeing a bit more of me, the actual me, around this place. As of today, March 3rd, 2011, I am making it my overarching goal to become happier, healthier, and a better version of me. I am going to make my environment an enriching place; that includes what I put in, on, and around my body, and what I use to feed my mind. And I plan to hold myself accountable by writing about it here. My accomplishments, slip-ups, and epiphanies.

All the studies and research and cool enriching stuff I find will not go away, not by any stretch. It’s just that now you get ME as an added bonus. Lucky y’all!

This is a very dangerous place for me, BTW, out in the open (The irony is I was called M.E. as a child (those are my initials), but I chose another name when I was six because I didn’t like being called “me.” Maybe I should have stuck with it). I’m definitely not in my most comfortable surroundings exposing myself in this way to the entire blogosphere. But it’s a much-needed shake out of my comfort zone in order to be ready to take on new challenges.

Are you also exploring your wellness, what you find enriching? I’d be interested in hearing your story or you sharing your blog with me; strength in numbers and all that.