How to Prevent the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

This excellent TED TV talk, presented by Jane McGonigal, discusses how we can prevent the top 5 regrets of the dying from taking place in our own lives as we lay on our death beds. She also talks about how to add 10 more years to our lives.

Who Is Jane McGonigal

McGonigal suffered from a concussion that did not heal properly. The result was non-stop headaches, memory loss, vertigo, mental fog. She spent nearly three months in bed, wanting to die, to really die. Suicidal idealization is common among 1 in 3 with traumatic brain injuries. With McGonigal, she started hearing voices telling her to kill herself because the pain will never stop and that she will never get better. She started to fear for her life, and so after 34 days she remembers telling herself something that she will always remember: She was either going to kill herself or play a game.

Why a game? From being a game designer and doing research for the past decade, McGonigal asserts that the scientific literature shows that when we play games we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, determination, more optimism, and we’re more likely to reach out to others for help.

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

How does this relate to our own lives, in preemptively stopping the top 5 regrets of the dying before it is too late? First of all, what are the top 5 regrets of the dying and how does playing games help to prevent them?

1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

For many people, this means spending more time with their family and kids when they were growing up. A recent study by Brigham Young University on Family Life reported that parents who spend more time playing kids with their kids have much stronger, real-life relationships with them.

2. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Hundreds of millions of people use social games to stay in daily contact with real-life friends and families. Games are powerful relationship management tools, helping them stay connected.

3. I wish I had let myself be happier.

A recent study at East Carolina University showed online gaming is more effective than pharamueticals at treating clinical depression and anxiety. Just 30 minutes of gaming a day led to dramatic increases in mood and long-term increases in happiness.

4. I wish I had the courage to express my true self.

Avatars in the gaming world are a way to express our true selves, our most heroic ideal versions of who we want to become. Stanford University has been doing research for 5 years now, documenting how playing a game with an idealized avatar changes we think and act in real life, making us more courageous, more ambitious, and more committed to our goals.

5. I wish I’d live a life true to my dreams, instead of what others expected of me.

This is where many of us fail, letting the uncertainty, fear, doubt, and noise of our well-meaning family members, spouses, and friend overrule us. It is something that even McGonigal herself wonders if playing games really helps solve. (Hint: It does.)


Post-Traumatic Growth

We often hear about post-traumatic stress disorder, but how often do we hear about post-traumatic growth? Some people get stronger and happier after a traumatic event. Scientists used to think that individuals experiencing a traumatic event are doomed to pain and suffering for the rest of their lives. They now know that individuals experiencing post-traumatic growth often use this as a springboard to unleash their best qualities and lead happier lives.

Here are the top 5 things that people with PTG say:

1. My priorities have changed. I’m not afraid to do what makes me happy.

2. I feel closer to my friends and family.

3. I understand myself better. I know who I am really now.

4. I have a new sense of meaning and purpose.

5. I am better able to focus on my goals and dreams.

Notice anything interesting about these traits?

They are the direct opposites of the top 5 regrets of the dying. This brings up a more interesting question: Is there was a way to awake one’s soul to these five things without having to go through post-traumatic growth? Interestingly, we can and they are as follows.

Physical Resilience

Your body is able to withstand stress and heal itself faster. According to McGonigal, the number one thing we can do to improve our physical resilience is to not sit still. Every single second that you are not sitting still, you are actively improving the health of your heart, lungs, and brain.

Mental Resilience

Builds up your mental focus, discipline, determination and willpower. Tackle a small challenge everyday to boost your willpower, even if that goal is something as simple as playing a typing game where you race against other people. The small wins help boost your willpower.

Emotional Resilience

We have the ability to invoke powerful, positive emotions such as love and curiosity when we need them the most. If you’re able to manage your emotions such that you are able to feel three positive emotions for every one negative emotion over the course of a day, a week, or a month, you dramatically increase your health and your ability to tackle any challenges you face.

Social Resilience

You derive strength from your friends, neighbors, and family. Another way to do this is to express gratitude. Touch is even better.


So, if you practice these four types of resiliency on a daily basis, you will increase your lifespan by 7 minutes an hour for every hour you boost your physical, mental, emotional, and social resilience.

That adds 10 more years to your lifespan!

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  1. Incredible article. I had a brain injury and was in a coma for two weeks when I was 14 years old. It changed my life. Now I am a therapist and my clients have often shared what you wrote here. It is so important to awaken people to choices now! Thanks!

    • Hi Candess.

      Thanks for sharing your story and how it changed you for the better! Mine is nowhere as dramatic. I went through a sort of spiritual awakening, after experiencing spiritual death. It still changed me for the better, and I came out a happier person, more true to myself, as a result. It’s one of the reasons why this blog was born.


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