You’ve seen that heading a thousand times in book covers and online articles. Living without regret is something that catches your attention and forces you to think: are you making the right decisions in life? A life with no regrets sounds promising, but here’s why it just won’t work.
The “no regret” culture is strong, and many people are buying it. There’s nothing wrong with trying to live without regrets, but it’s impossible and unhealthy. People come up with these things for the right reasons, and that is for you to live more mindfully and reconsider the decisions you make.
But living with no regrets is impossible because when we do, it means we are perfect and make the right decisions every time. Having no regrets means you’re not re-evaluating yourself and making mistakes. Regret is unavoidable; it’s bad, but it’s essential.
What is regret? The word has different meanings to different people. Regret is a backward way of thinking that looks into the past and reconsiders the choices we once made. For some, regret happens even when people weren’t in control of a past situation. Regret also comes from different perspectives.
A person running late for work may regret being stuck in traffic; this regret comes from an uncontrollable situation. Another person feels regret when she realized she’d made a bad decision. A person stuck in traffic should not feel regret because he or she has no control over the situation. That’s not regret; that’s wishful thinking. Regret is lying on your bed and recalling your life’s failures.
The Reality of Regret
Many people staying in hospices often have the time to think about their lives, and sometimes it might include moments of regret. For example, in many of Wichita’s retirement homes, providing hospice & palliative care services, they often surround the patients with family and support staff. Patients can recount their successes and regrets in life, with everyone listening intently. The staff will make sure the family is well adjusted and prioritize the patient’s comfort. Despite the patient’s regrets, a feeling of love and acceptance abounds. The end of life is seen as a fitting close to a life well-lived.
But people do have some degree of control over what happens in their lives. For them, there are regretful situations they could prevent or at least control. The most common regrets people think they could have prevented include the following:
- They did not spend enough time with loved ones and instead stayed at work. People also admitted they did not tell their loved ones how much they loved them, making them regret things that were not said.
- They did not follow their dreams. People could be stuck at a comfortable pace and do not take risks. This results in people who wish they’d done something differently or did activities they never did.
- They did not forgive or practice kindness. Life can be burdensome when people hold grudges and don’t know how to let go. Kindness goes a long way and can make life easier for anyone.
- They did not learn from their mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, and people should learn from them. Mistakes are what make people learn from past decisions and move forward with life.
Why Regret is Powerful
Often these are the points people consider when they say they want to live “with no regrets”. The common theme is family, personal aspirations, gratitude and kindness. These are all important, but you must learn how to differentiate these from mistakes and incidents that make you a better person.
A life without regrets is one without direction and self-awareness. The decisions we make in life allow us to be who we are, and mistakes guide us to be better people. In the end, we can aspire to be like the terminal patients in many hospices: recognizing their regrets in life, but also realizing they lived a life with purpose.