IT'S AN INTERESTING NOTION that we are so happy we would change nothing in our past because it might change where we are now. There are more than a few quotes purporting the positives of living a life with no regrets. For two particular reasons, not considering regret has never made sense to me. The first being that I am not sure why regret makes for less of a life. Certainly dwelling in regret is a waste of time but acknowledging a poor life choice is or can be helpful. Secondly, just because you are happy now doesn’t mean you might not be happier. Sure, it may not have lead to the place you are now, but it could have led you down a different path to a more fulfilled place. Maybe it’s something you cannot imagine, but that doesn’t make it an impossibility.
regret : to be very sorry for
The definition of regret is a rather vague. Merriam-Websters defines regret as “to be ver sorry for”. Can I be very sorry for something and not regret it? ‘Sorry’ is sorrow and mournful. I can be sorry, feel mournful about having to remove a child from a house of neglect, but do I regret it? Absolutely not. Regret has to be more specific, more than just something that inspires an apology. It occurs to me that there are things I regret, but I’m not sorry about nor do I feel mournful that it happened. So what is this thing ‘regret’? If I regret it, I have to wish it were different. Otherwise, I am just sorry or sad it happened. And simply being sad or sorry is worthless. That’s not to suggest that sorrow has nothing to do with regret. It can, and too often does, but real regret has to include the desire for change. I would change a lot of things if I had it to do over. I regret leaving jobs, the way I treated people, and how I treated myself. I understand how the statement may sound negative, but sincerely, it isn’t. I’m not going to obsess over my foibles. I don’t think this is a “bad” thing nor does it mean I am not very pleased with how it’s all turned out. I am happy with where I’ve arrived, but I am also not blind to the possibility that it could have been better. My humanity got in the way, and I made mistakes. And as a good friend, I forgive myself.
You might ask me what good does it do you to spend time regretting those errors? Accepting regret helps me be more thoughtful about my choices and to understand better and accept resulting consequences. Being blind to my mistakes or rationalizing bad behavior as the means to the end is not honest. So, I have plenty of regrets, but I also have a wonderful family, good friends and a great community, that in spite of my poor choices, protect me. I didn’t get here all on my own. I had plenty of help, and I am very grateful. This strange rationale leads me to believe that regrets allow me to better appreciate what I have. I speak to the reality of acknowledging the things I would change and doing so keeps me very optimistic about the future. JOE