Forget the Regret

Regret is a negative emotion which people create in themselves in response to past actions or inactions.

Wikipedia says “Regret is often a feeling of sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance, or guilt after one acts in a manner and later wishes not to have done so.”

But I say, “Forget the Regret” and will explain why as we progress, but first, let’s look at some common regrets and then what regret is all about.

Common Regrets

All regrets start with the words “I wish”. So here are a few of the more common regrets that older people especially seem to come up with. The longer you live the more regrets you are likely to accumulate. So here we go:

  • I wish I had spent more time being myself
  • I wish I had spent more time doing a job I really enjoyed
  • I wish I had spent more time with my children as they grew up
  • I wish I had taken more time for further education
  • I wish I had spent more time concerned with my real friends
  • I wish I had had the courage to do x, eg. express my feelings more, say in romance
  • I wish I had been more tolerant of myself and others and eg. allowed myself to be happier

Regrets in Decision Making

So regrets are socially acceptable and even expected. I suspect the whole notion of regret is a social construct for society to control its members better, but I won’t discuss that here.

People are often told to consider their future likely regrets when making decisions. But actually, it’s also worth considering that Wikipedia says, “People appear to overestimate how much regret they will feel in the future.”

Your Bucket List

It is common these days for older people to create a “bucket list”. That is a list of stuff you really want to do before you “kick the bucket” ie die. The notion being to reduce your regrets a little.

I think this idea reduces your life to living it as a consumer. Not of consuming goods, but maybe of consuming time, or consuming experiences. And that’s a reasonable way to think of life.

You may even want to cheat Death by having nothing left behind in your shell of a body for Death to benefit from. All your potential will have been consumed and changed into pure memories and experiences for yourself and left as a legacy for others.

So if there is something you have wanted to do to fulfil your destiny or your purpose, don’t put it off, do it today while there is still time.

It’s of interest to me that in the Victorian era in the UK, many people were much more frightened of sudden death than of a slow, lingering death because they wanted to complete their bucket lists or perform their final rites with their church, family, legal, etc.

My own personal view is that after I am dead I won’t be able to worry about what I missed doing.

A Lack of Regret Maybe a Concern

I notice that society takes a very dim view of people who show no signs of regret or remorse for wrong-doings. For instance, during the sentencing stage in criminal courts, judges often take into consideration the level of remorse shown by the guilty. Lack of regret or remorse is considered very bad.

Indeed again, Wikipedia mentions that some unusual people don’t have the ability to feel regret or remorse when it says, “People who have antisocial personality disorder and dissocial personality disorder are incapable of feeling regret or remorse.”

I am not advocating not feeling regret or remorse. Society clearly expects it from normal people and it’s a healthy sign. But I am advocating getting over it quickly.

My Regret Coping Strategy

How then might you cope better with the inevitable feelings of regret in your life?

Let’s think about it.

I like to start with forgiveness. And even closer to home, with forgiveness for myself or yourself. Forgiveness involves the unilateral and full-hearted giving a pardon to someone for something they have done against you.

If you had the gift of foresight then when you made a decision that now causes you regret, you would have known the outcome and changed your mind maybe. But I certainly don’t have that gift of foresight. So whatever got decided was with the best of intentions even if it turned out badly. 

But forgiveness doesn’t mean one simply lets the injury go without learning. Because one may want to learn and take action to avoid future related or similar episodes.

Either way, I see self-forgiveness as a simple step to coping better.

Secondly, accepting and letting go of regrets wipes the slate clean(er). Supposing instead of having regrets, you simply acknowledged and accepted all the decisions you made in your life. For me, that would mean I could be more at peace with myself with less blame, less guilt, a lesser feeling of missed opportunities, etc.

Thirdly, be positive, optimistic and forget the regret. You will never know what would have happened if you had in fact made another choice in the past.

You Just Never Know The Consequences…

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.

Quoted from Zen Buddhist Stories