Never was there a more wasted emotion than “regret”. It’s just more mental/emotional clutter. Having a regret is a lot like having a wish, in the fact that they both take place in a fantasy world. In a world where there is no cost to the decisions we make, no sacrifice. This is something we seldom consider in our deeply emotional state of regret. And even if we have considered it, we are still making a lot of assumptions of how the “butterfly effect” would pan out. The Butterfly Effect is way too extensive and complicated for even the smartest of us to predict. Oh, and there is also the fact that we can’t change the past.
What I do find misleading and ridiculous, is when people pass off their regrets as a philosophy to live by for other people. Just as a general rule, one should never take the advice of someone who is pointing us toward a certain path that they themselves haven’t traveled before. Simply having taken the opposite path, and found that it doesn’t work, does not qualify them to advise on this path being the correct one.
Example: An old man on his death bed with his big family around him says “I wish I had focused more on my career. With my talent, I could have been a wonderful lawyer, instead of just a Paralegal.”
Likelihood is this man didn’t consider that if he had taken that path, it would have been more demanding on his time. Demanding enough not to have a very extensive social life. In pursuit of fortune and glory on his way to make partner in the firm, he passed up marriage and children. If he had been the hot shot lawyer he wished he was, he might not have such a big wonderful family around him filling him with joy during his final days. He might even be alone.
Example: Career woman Mayor nearing retirement finds herself depressed. Now finally, in her later years she feels the urge to have a family. So much so that she carries the regret “I wish I had started a family much earlier in life.”
Likelihood is that she didn’t consider that if she had taken that path, she wouldn’t have had the time to focus on her political career. As a result she wouldn’t have been able to create affordable housing for the under-privileged. She wouldn’t have been able to create more jobs, and greatly reduce unemployment. She is not considering that her lack of social life allowed countless other families to flourish.
Example: A woman in her early 60’s is in her final days of life as pancreatic cancer gets the best of her. She is a straight vegan with no indulgences and exercises vigorously every day. She holds on to the regret: “Had I known cancer was going to bite me anyway, I would have indulged in all the treats this life has to offer. I would have ‘lived’ more, and worried less.”
This is all well and good, but how does she know that the cancer wouldn’t have taken her sooner had she been more indulgent? How does she know that heart disease, Diabetes, or something else wouldn’t have ended her sooner? She doesn’t. It’s unfortunate that her life will be prematurely ended by cancer, but her experience is hardly enough grounds for anyone to adopt a “You only live once. Might as well enjoy all the forbidden fruits” lifestyle. Hell, for all she knows the cancer could have been the eventuality of a genetic weakness, and the fact that she did live such a healthy lifestyle is what has staved it off this long.
Hindsight is not 20/20. We have no idea of all the sacrifices we’d have to make had we chosen another path. We have no clue about all the obstacles we would have met along the way. All we can ask ourselves is “Was the time I spent in THIS LIFE valuable time?” That’s it. If the answer is “yes”, then we should feel grateful. If the answer is “no”, there is still the fact that we can’t change the past.