The Secret to Life That I Learned at a Nursing Home

You hear it all time.

A man on his death bed is asked what he regretted most in life. He responds that he wishes he would have done more; lived more; gone after his dreams.

Cliche, I know. But it is true.

To us, that seems so distant and unrelatable. We intellectually know that if we spend our life living for others, we will one day regret it, but for whatever reason, we do not act on that knowledge.

It is not visceral enough to take theory into practice. Sadly, it takes something tragic or extreme to happen for us to wake up and realize that this is not a dress rehearsal. That this is the only chance, we get.

For me, I needed a wake-up call. I was living my life for others. I was not being; I was doing. I lacked the perception of reality and only longed for more money, power, and esteem from others.

Lucky for me, the universe had different plans. Instead of allowing me to go down a path that would have led to middle-aged regret, and probably self-hatred, it gave me a new way out in the vessel of anxiety.

At the time, I was so driven to “make something of myself” that I would have never stopped. I was fierce and focused. I lacked the ability to have fun and enjoy life. So, to wake me up, I had to lose myself in the process.

Having a panic attack is not fun. However, the good that came from that experience of vomiting on the subway platform at the 28th Street 6 line station was what saved me from living a life of regret.

Although it took months, and long nights of the soul, to finally heal, I could not be more grateful for that experience. It taught me that what you input into your life, whether food, people, or media, is what you will get out.

More importantly, however, it taught me that the present moment is all we have and that how you spend those precious moments is how you live your life.

I think it was Tim Urban, blogger over at Wait But Why, who said it best. I may be getting the exact quote wrong so forgive me, but he said something along the lines of this:

Happiness is the sum total of every insignificant Wednesday.

I love that and think that it is so true, but it can be hard to understand for some of us that have been trained to believe that the right job, family, and bank account would bring us the joy we wanted.

However, the research is clear. The big life moments, although precious to a rich life, do not bring the level of happiness we think they will. In fact, it is the small, insignificant moments in which we find pleasure that a good life is formed.

Pro Tip: Even if you just document one good thing that happened every night, you will be happier than waiting years to get that promotion. The little things do matter here.

Maybe you have not had a wake up call yet like I did. Maybe you are 28 and making good money living in a city you enjoy. Maybe this feels secure. Maybe even comfortable, like you have it figured out.

If so, I fear for you.

Because that is the path that most people in the developed world go down. We have it relatively easy, compared to our ancestors. We do not have to hunt for our food. We have clean water and penicillin. We can go to the doctor when we are sick, and we have a soft bed to lay our head.

Most of you WILL NOT have a wake up experience early enough for it to make a big difference. Or worse, you will, but you will overlook it and not make a change.

If you have not realized at a visceral level that you will die and that your life will only matter if you make an impact on OTHERS, what I am urging you to do is go to your local retirement home.

Go now. Or this Saturday. It does not matter but make a commitment to go this month.

Talk with the residents. Ask them about their life. What they did. What they did not do. What they wish they would’ve done differently if they had the chance to do it all over again.

The underlining theme that you will find is this…


I have done this a couple of times. Not only is it an amazing way to wake yourself up to the life you have, but it also is an excellent way to lend an attentive ear to those who have mainly been abandoned by their family.

It is a win-win.

Seriously, do this now and let me know what you learn in the comments.

Friends, I want us all to wake up. That’s the purpose of doing this for me. To assist others in waking up before something tragic happens, and hopefully, early enough that they can do something about it and add value to the world.

I want the majority of us to wake up under our own circumstances because although I am so grateful for having a battle with mental health, I would not wish that experience on my worst enemy.

Stop waiting for your wake up call. Talk with people who have lived a full life and learn for yourself how raw, powerful and precious this life we have is.

You only get one. Please, for the sake of humanity, don’t waste yours.

Benjamin Foley
Benjamin Foley

Founder, Fully Rich Life

Benjamin is the founder of Fully Rich Life, an online business that is focused on helping people decrease stress and anxiety, naturally. Join thousands of readers in his free 21 Day Mindfulness Challenge.

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