The Nature of Regret

Regret is a wondrous thing.

I know, starting a post with such a line is quite dramatic, and rest assured that’s the intent.

In its simplest form, regret is the realisation of where you are and the clear (and possibly, painful) awareness that you’d rather not be where you are. Tracing back, you reach a point where you decided something that led you to this regretful position. Some regrets are yours and yours only, some regrets affect people around you. I don’t know of a regret that can be undone, almost all have to be taken in stride.

There’ll be few or no occasions in life when we are faced with exactly the same circumstances. And that, I think is where the wonder lies. Every regret is uniquely full of learning possibilities. But it’s up to us to extract the full essence of the lesson rather than dwelling only on the contributing conditions of that regret. Living a life without regrets maybe desirable, but a life sprinkled with a few regrets is enriched by the knowledge of how and why we make certain decisions. The enrichment is always a cumulative process; a life full of regrets is a marker of our inability to learn.

Some people say that they have no regrets. That statement, I believe, cannot be taken literally. There are regrets; what these people mean to say is: that they have a better understanding of their ability to, and their capacity of, making decisions; that they have made good of the regretful situation and moved on. Our decisions cause the regrets in the first place, and it is our decisions again that get us out of regrets.

Perhaps then, the dramatic opening line of this post needs to change. Regret is not the wondrous thing. The environment around regrets that makes and breaks regrets is a wondrous thing.

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12 thoughts on “The Nature of Regret

  1. Atul: You have captured the nuance of a regret so well. I agree with you totally. (So no discussion, I’m afraid, on this.)

  2. Few of my thoughts around this topic. Many amongst us regret with the feeling of not being brave enough to express our inner feelings, they feel that the younger generations have learned to open up more and easily express themselves. Instead of living with this regretful thought why not learn from the younger generations to speak up our minds.

    Atul you gave me a chance to express my thoughts on regrets here.

    • Interestingly, I recently met a friend who said what he felt. He chose that short-time hurt over long-term regret, I think. Thank you, and you are most welcome to express your thoughts here. :)

  3. Another post that has stumped me. You have grazed my feelings about regrets. I agree everyone has regrets. But here is why I was ready to get up in arms : when faced with a decision, I don’t think anyone consciously make the lesser/worse of the choices provided. I think at every stage we always make the best possible choices. And yes sometimes things will work just like we hoped they would and sometimes they won’t. Then how can we regret that decision? Hindsight is always 20/20. I have learned that there is no point brooding over the past, no regrets over what could have been, should have been. There is a great future for us to have. :)

    • Very aptly put @ at every stage we always make the best possible choices. In a way, regret is wishful fallback to a “what-if-I had-chosen-otherwise”. It is usually useless, but as I mentioned in the post, it’s of learning value for the future, not a reason for us to wallow about what could have been. Post-decisions as more things come to the fore, and we get a sense of the things we may have missed – which help in future reference. And yes, absolutely no use brooding over the past: learn, accumulate, and move forward. :)

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