Living with regrets

On living with regrets and a response to people who declare they have no regrets

Occasionally, I encounter what I believe to be misplaced and unfortunate attitudes people have concerning regrets. For instance, some will say that they have no regrets, that having regrets is foolish, or that focusing on the past is a waste of time. I maintain that a person who seriously contests that they have no regrets may be lacking in self-reflection and should not — in most cases — feel tremendously guilty about the past if they recognize faults and strive to improve.

Experiencing feelings of guilt may motivate someone to express that they have no regrets. Personally, I can cope with feelings of guilt largely by looking at mistakes in my past as uninformed choices I have made that, if I had knowledge I now possess, I would not have taken. It’s also possible that people have made mistakes because they had inaccurate information or were quite uncertain about a course of action. We can experience guilt, yet still have regrets. Noticing that we made poor choices, for instance, can allow us to be humble and show signs of growth.

Some regrets may surround some ‘what-if’ situations in life such as ‘would life be different if I ended a relationship sooner than I actually did’ or ‘would life be different if I instead focused on a different line of work and studies.’ Dwelling on thoughts like this often containing innumerable possibilities can be interesting exercises in thought and lead people to experiencing regrets and guilt.

Perhaps someone, for instance, might have been happier or more affluent if they pursued a career in dentistry rather than accounting, but it is very difficult to know whether this would actually be the case. Maybe an individual dislikes a certain career choice, but this is only the case because of a current reality. Perhaps a certain career choice seemed like a good decision based on past information, but with current information the choice was not a good one. In this case, it’s quite possible to experience regrets and not feel bad about past decisions based on the best or perhaps inaccurate information one had at the time.

We can learn from our mistakes, work toward progressing ourselves, and healthily declare that we have regrets. Rather than focusing entirely in the past and wallowing in the fact that we may have made poor decisions, we can at our past decisions and vow to improve in the future by using new information we have acquired. The fool — it seems — is not someone who acknowledges they have made mistakes in life, but rather the person who says they would change nothing in the past if the opportunity were presented.