27/10/2014 08:06 GMT | Updated 27/12/2014 05:59 GMT

Dying Regrets: 'I Wish That I Had Let Myself be Happier'

'I wish that I had let myself be happier' is one of the top regrets that people have when they are dying, according to author Bronnie Ware.

Bronnie was a palliative nurse whose life was transformed when she found herself tending to the needs of the dying. She began to catalogue the most common regrets of the people she cared for. A common wish was that they had simply let themselves be happier.

Ware was surprised at how often this came up.

Her dying patients had a sudden realisation that their own happiness was simply a matter of choice. Throughout their lives many people had got embedded in habits and ways of living, repeating patterns of behaviour and doing what others expected of them. They had allowed the apparent 'comfort' of the familiar to affect their emotional and physical lives, without exploring the myriad of other, happier, options open to them.

Sound familiar? Of course we all have our comfort zones and the unfamiliar can be, let's face it, a bit scary. Ware discovered that fear of change had led to people pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were more content than they felt. They had taken life too seriously when deep down they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When we discover moments in our lives that really make our heart sing, they usually come out of the blue. That unexpected moment when nature taps us on the shoulder and gives us a warm glow of pleasure. An old friend who makes us laugh again. That sudden flash of insight that makes us feel more connected or inspired. But in order to feel that we are truly living we have to seek out the unfamiliar, even the uncomfortable. We have to do something different.

When we understand that these are the ways to 'let ourselves be happier' we can bring more of them into our lives. When I started a movement called Do Something Different we set out to do exactly that. To help people break free of their old habits and familiar routines and experience something exciting and refreshingly novel.

There are tons of things we can all do to increase our happiness, as I said in an earlier blog.

We don't just 'let ourselves be happier' by being open to positive feelings, we can actively seek out the positive in our everyday lives. And we can do the things that make us happy. Connecting with people who matter to us, giving to others, staying active and remembering to feel grateful every day for all the good things in our lives. These are all good happy habits that can be cultivated if we really make the effort and stay alive to the possibility.

Then, when that day comes when we are looking back, at least it won't be tinged with regret for anything that we could have avoided.

If you're interested to know what the the Top Five Regrets of the Dying are:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

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

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

From The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing by Bronnie Ware