I used to think that I wanted to live without any regrets. The idea of living a life so satisfying and vibrant that you never look back has an undeniable allure. But over time, my thinking has changed and I’ve come to embrace regret as a healthy part of a mature outlook on life.
Regrets are the natural outcome of a life of honest reflection and a desire to learn. Living with no regrets seems to imply either incredible arrogance, or absolute denial. I’ve probably made more bad decisions than most people, but everyone makes some bad decisions, and refusing to acknowledge them removes the ability to learn from them. I also see regret as a natural outcome of an understanding that our actions and choices have consequences and matter. I don’t want to live my life in a haze under the assumption that it doesn’t really matter what I do or how I live. I want to have purpose and direction, and when I fall short, I want to see and understand the connection between that shortcoming and what happens next. If you have no regrets over the decisions of the past, then why spend any time on the questions of the future, either? They’ll soon be in the past, so if you choose wrong, you can enjoy not regretting them too.
Please understand that I’m not saying we should harbor deep feelings of shame, guilt, and depression over past decisions. I think we should be grateful, and I think we should avoid worrying too much about decisions we’ve already made. I especially think that we should avoid feeling bad about decisions that seemed good at the time based on the info we had, but turned out to be bad in the end. You do what you can with the information you have. But there’s something to be learned from every decision we make, from every step we take, and if we refuse to acknowledge that our choices and actions have very real consequences, we aren’t afforded the opportunity to learn from them.