Skip to main content

When you're dying, what will you regret?

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
June 21, 2013 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
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
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
ADVERTISEMENT