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 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT