Skip to main content

When you're dying, what will you regret?

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Fri June 21, 2013
Sunset Beach is on the North Shore of Oahu and is considered the surfing capital of the world. Sunset Beach is on the North Shore of Oahu and is considered the surfing capital of the world.
HIDE CAPTION
Sunset Beach, Hawaii
Chincoteague, Virginia
Boca Grande, Florida
Lubec, Maine
Gearhart, Oregon
Santa Cruz, California
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Michigan
Rockport, Texas
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Avila, California
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A nurse said that the number one regret of dying men is that they wished they worked less
  • Dean Obeidallah: I'm a workaholic, but I was profoundly affected by the dying men's remorse
  • He says he really enjoys work and can't stop to smell the roses, but he will try to slow down
  • Obeidallah: Relaxing has health benefits and can make you happier, so go for it if you can

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report and co-host of a new CNN podcast "The Big Three" that looks at the top three stories of the week. Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) -- "Stop and smell the roses."

If you're like me -- and the millions of other workaholics in America -- this line elicits an immediate eye roll and a visceral reaction of: "You have got to be kidding me. How can I stop and smell the roses with all the work I need to get done?!"

What can I say? I work a lot and I enjoy it. I barely stop working on vacations. My body may be sitting on a beautiful beach, but my mind will still be racing ahead planning my next work-related move like I'm a player in the career version of, "Game of Thrones."

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

But then I read an article a few months ago that had a profound impact on me. This article shared the observations of a nurse who had cared for dying patients on their deathbed. She documented their regrets as they reflected upon their lives and their impending demise.

Did these people -- faced with their own mortality -- express their disappointment over not putting in more hours at work? Did they lament over work-related e-mails they wished they had answered or express remorse over business meetings they missed attending?

Nope. In fact, she found the opposite. The No.2 most common regret expressed to the nurse -- and the number one regret of men under her care -- was: "I wish I hadn't worked so hard." As the nurse noted, "This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship."

The nurse also shared the other common regrets articulated by her patients, such as their disappointment in not pursing their dreams, failing to have the courage to express their true feelings and not allowing themselves to be happy.

But of all of these, the one that struck me the deepest was: "I wish I hadn't worked so hard." I thought about this for a while, letting this deathbed regret percolate in my mind.

My wiring is to work all the time -- partly because I actually enjoy it (or at least I believe I do) and partly because I inherited my Palestinian father's immigrant work ethic. (Which is tempered slightly by my mother's Italian culture that emphasizes enjoying life.)

I wondered if it would be possible for me to truly "stop and smell the roses"? After a great deal of introspection, I came to this candid conclusion: No, I couldn't -- and I doubt others like me could either.

But I do believe that I'm capable of "slowing down and smelling a rose or two." So this summer, I have decided to carve out moments from my work in the areas of standup comedy, writing and producing to relax a bit -- maybe even have some semblance of a social life.

For those not swayed yet to join my "smell a rose or two this summer" campaign, you should be aware that there are actual tangible benefits to giving yourself some down time.

As the Mayo Clinic notes, simple relaxation can reduce stress and improve your health. Take a yoga class, meditate or learn muscle relaxation techniques that literally only take a few minutes a day to perform -- these all help reduce stress.

And for those who will only consider relaxing more because it means you will be better at your job, you are in luck.

A study in the Journal of Epidemiology found that people who worked 35 to 40 hours per week, as opposed to 55-plus hours, were better at problem-solving and had better short-term memory. Bottom line: Lowering hours worked per week can make you more productive.

But wait, there's more: A 2012 study, which examined the actual benefits of "stopping to smell the roses," found that people who appreciated the blessings in their lives tended to be happier. Thus, appreciating the "roses" in your life -- be they relationships, family, or even the beauty of nature -- will likely lift your spirits and increase your happiness.

The summer of 2013 officially begins this week. What's going to be for you this summer? More work, more e-mails, more meetings?

Or will it be a summer where you allow yourself to slow down a bit -- just a bit -- to have some fun, to relax and to appreciate the nice things in your life?

I think it's best put by a famous line from the movie, "Inception": "Do you want to take a leap of faith, or become an old man [or old woman], filled with regret, waiting to die alone?"

I have made my choice. What about you?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
updated 2:32 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
updated 5:03 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
updated 5:25 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT