It’s Necessary And Healthy To Have Regrets
“No regrets” is an oft-used phrase that I hear all the time. We use this phrase as a disclaimer, as reassurance that some stupid decision or other was all in the name of good fun, or offered us life experience that we learned from, or that we have no shame about a poor choice. And then there’s that ol’ Pinterest cliche, “Never regret anything because at one time it was exactly what you wanted.” Or my personal favorite, “The only things you’ll regret when you’re older are the things you didn’t do.”
There’s a lot of sentimental literature—pasted over dramatic sunset photos—about regret as something to be avoided at all costs, because regret is an uncomfortable feeling that creates shame and remorse, and we live in a society of fast pleasures and endless opportunities and options. But regret is not a dirty word. Regret is healthy. Regret should, sometimes, be felt.
When I think about my life, I regret a few things. I regret not having a more carefree lifestyle in college, I regret not dating more and not taking more chances. So, in a way, that second quote above is accurate. I regret the things I didn’t do.
But I also regret small things. I regret spending too much money, I regret falling for the same stupid men over and over again. I regret watching too much TV or not reading enough. These small things may seem unimportant and maybe, they are. After all, we all make mistakes, and why get bogged down with regret and shame? Why not push those to the side and think, “No regrets”?
Because having no regrets means you don’t feel what you’ve done. Having no regrets and pushing down our feelings of remorse can lead to bigger egos, a loss of self-awareness, and the repeating of mistakes. We can continuously hurt ourselves and others if we constantly fail to feel regret for the mistakes we may have made. If we don’t learn from them.
“No regrets” is the philosophy of YOLO, without taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions. But having regrets is healthy, normal and shouldn’t be pushed aside just so we won’t ever feel negative emotions like shame and sorrow. Having regrets teach us more than our experiences. Feeling regret means coming to terms with our culpability, and makes us more aware that everything we do has consequences.
It also makes us more aware of what we’re capable of, both good and bad. It makes us more aware of what we want in life, because we’re aware of the bad choices and decisions we’ve made that weren’t the best. I regret doing/not doing certain things, and I’m aware that the choices I made reverberated throughout the trajectory of my life. Because I regret it, and I recognize that regret, it becomes a motivation to change things in the future.
“No regrets,” at the end of the day, isn’t entirely realistic. It creates this world where we can do anything we like, and chalk it up to experience or laugh off bad things we did and say it was all worth it, because it brought us to where we are now.
But regret puts things into another perspective entirely. Feeling regret gives weight to our choices and makes us more mature, more aware. It allows us to shape our lives within this narrative of what we know we want, because it’s based on where we’ve been. Ignoring negative emotions like regret, shame, sorrow and pity means that we’ll be less capable of controlling them and harnessing them for the positive.
Regret can be healthy if it’s understood and if it’s the way we become better people.