Leaving It All Behind: Why Regret Isn’t Always Best Left In The Past

We’re constantly being told that regret isn’t a positive emotion, that it strangles our ambition and our happiness. A poisonous cloud of missed opportunity, we must dispense with it to flower in brighter climes.

How is it then that we learn so much from this sensation of leaving something behind? We gain something through loss, through an awareness of the irrevocable once within our power to change or influence. We appreciate the fullness of what we had and the erosion a mistake or poor choice can leave us with. Yet the stained and pitted statuary of our personalities make us fundamentally who we are, in all of our variegated warmth and empathy.

I’m struck by my own history in this, as a person who enjoys reading about the lives of others, and how it fuels the context of one’s larger personality. Does our regret make us shrink away, the warmth of others searing rather than comforting? Will we ever ‘get better’?

I regret a few things in my life and, while I think ‘no regrets’ is a worthless, hoary cliche, I believe when some people say they ‘have no regrets’. That’s truly excellent! However, I do.

So if I’m going to have them, why not use them? To create a building block for future actions in a positive sense. To establish a baseline of your own behaviour using logic and a hearty appreciation of your feelings now versus that time in the past.

Your mismanagement of affairs can be overcome through these tough lessons. Unhealthy relationships can be dissolved into the pool of memory and become a wry look rather than a head hanging with despair. Fear can be turned into the bravery of experience. Jealousy of the success of the others can be refined and turned into warm congratulations and a drive to succeed in your own endeavours.

I recently talked to an old friend who regretted not leaving England for a few years to explore new things, professing a touch of envy in my adventures. Yet I was also envious of his stability and incredible work ethic. We didn’t quite laugh about but that wry look I talked about? Consider them exchanged between old friends with a good appreciation.

Avoid Regret

How could we not? Regret is bad, right. So is depression. These are B A D things.

Yet, they push us.

I’m not advocating that we all be in a state of depression to ‘optimize’ or ‘hack’ our lives (however you want to phrase it, it’s disingenuous). We certainly should aim for happy, contented, and healthy lives.

Nonetheless, let’s not turn away from the stimulation to the intellect and motivation that regret can provide us. Don’t DO that thing again? Remember how you felt THAT ONE TIME? That bitter knife can be the salient point required to learn and improve over time, consistently and healthily.

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