Now that I’m a bit older, (a phrase I have come to accept), I keep running across the question, “Given the opportunity to look back, what are your regrets?” The question, however, assumes that I do regret something; the reality is that I don’t really regret- much.
Is regret an option?
When I hear other people answer this question, I often hear an immediate response of “nothing”. It is often followed by a comment about their lousy marriage, but without which they would not have the three wonderful children and six grandchildren in their lives.
I also hear people talk about decision -making in terms of regret: “Which side of the coin will you regret NOT doing?” I do believe that is a tough question to answer. It is surely hard to know how the future will unfold, how values might change, and what unknown paths will emerge.
Generally, self-help books tend to promote relationships as the path of least regret. I have been taught that I will never regret that I didn’t work 18 -hour days, but I will regret not spending time with my family. I have heard that an almost 40-something woman will not regret that lost promotion, but will regret not having a child. While relationships and children are clearly important to most, still many people have other values, other goals. If I want to change the world or make tons of money, these goals might not fit with either a relationship or children. But again, who knows how I might feel once I have stashed tons of money in the bank, or on the other hand, lost my ideal well-paid job and need to start over as unemployed?
Maybe yes, maybe no
When I think about my own regrets, I debate; do I have none or might I have one? I am delighted to be where I am today and if I hadn’t made the choices I did along the way, I wouldn’t have learned so many great lessons of life, met some terrific people, accomplished some admirable goals and had amazing experiences along the way. When I land here, I am completely content with no regrets.
However, when pushed, I can come up with one possible regret. I have moved A LOT. I wonder, what would my life have been like had I stayed in one, or a at least several, places? Instead, I have moved from Texas to Maine, New Jersey to California, and most lately, from California to Florida. And those are not even half of the moves and don’t include the moves within the states.
I certainly got to see the country, learn about our many sub-cultures and immerse myself in the diverse geography. I have made great friends from every corner, and enjoyed both beach and mountains. Now I am able to visit so many places across the country and enjoy reminiscing about those good old times with a huge variety of people. Along with the way, I have enjoyed working in these diverse locations, have advanced my career, and explored new opportunities.
But, “What if’s” sometimes plague me. What if I had stayed and had the opportunity to deepen some of those relationships? What if I had remained at one of those jobs and built my career in one familiar place, rather than having to continually learn the ropes anew? Would I have more money now? Would I have more ‘fast friends”? Would I know my neighborhood like the back of my hand?
Gratitude as the antidote
Regrets are complicated. In so many ways, we are urged to be regret free. We make choices; we need to live with the outcomes. How I feel about those outcomes is all about my attitude. Instead of regret, I can feel gratitude.
Given that I have no idea how the path not taken might have turned out, I can be grateful for how the path I did choose evolved. Gratitude, according to Emmons and McCullough, who have spent years studying it, not only builds and strengthens relationships, it pushes us toward thinking more creatively, and more importantly for those of us who are aging, it tends to reduce physical complaints, increases the likelihood of exercise, promotes activity toward goals and enhances well being and positive emotions. I find it pretty amazing the gratitude can have such a far ranging impact!
I am grateful for the opportunity to make choices, to take risks and dive into the unknown and learn along the way. I am deliciously happy with where I am now and grateful that the many forks in the road have led me here.
I now come back around to the question, at this stage of my life: do I regret anything from my past? The forks in the road, with bumps and some suffering mixed with many highs filled with joy, led to where I am today.
My ultimate answer is a resounding NO. I don’t regret. I am delighted with where my choices have led me and am grateful for the people and the love along the way. I am grateful for what I have learned and even more grateful that I can share it with you through this blog.
And even if I do move a couple of more times… it’s ok. It’s who I am and I get to learn one more neighborhood and make some new friends along the way. And besides, packing and unpacking are good exercise!