That’s Men: Regrets? We’ve all had a few – and they can either help or hinder us
Sometimes people who have been searching for happiness have told me they fear finding it.
Their reasoning is that if the answer turns out to be a simple one, they will regret the years that they wasted feeling unhappy.
At the time, I thought their attitude an odd one. But as the years go on, I find myself thinking the same whenever I imagine I have finally hit the jackpot and found the way to overcome the dissatisfactions of life for good and for all.
Why could I not have found that way decades ago? I fear I will ask myself for the future.
I suppose I am talking about regrets, those usually private, often unspoken disappointments at what we did and, perhaps more often, what we did not do.
I am referring to regrets about our own actions or inactions and not necessarily about the behaviour of others.
An odd thing about regrets is that we seem to act as though nobody else has them. They take us into a space in which we are all alone with whatever pain we are nursing.
When you think about it, though, all of us probably start accumulating regrets when we are very small and add to them all the way through life.
A small child has small regrets, I suppose. The child might regret having done something that got them into trouble with a parent, or having given away a toy that they then realised they cherished.
Later regrets revolve around relationships – what we did in them, what we could have done in them, what might have been, what might not have been – wasted opportunities, money, health and abandoned ambitions.
Usually the only thing we can do with these regrets is to accept them: to experience the physical and emotional pain that comes with them and then move on.
Recycling regrets simply keeps us on that lonely road to nowhere.
To some extent, most regrets are unrealistic. The roads we meet in life are not straight roads. They are more like twists and turns in a deceptively constructed maze.
That we are going to take wrong turns and that some of these are going to be very wrong turns indeed is a matter of certainty.
Yet when we torment ourselves with regrets it’s as though we think we should have been some sort of super-beings, able to rise above that maze and work out where exactly we ought to go.
But we are not super-beings: we are just faulty creatures on a crooked path.
Maybe we have bought into the lie that you can be anything you want to be. We don’t like to admit that this all-too common statement isn’t true, that too much of the world is like a mad, random machine out of your control and, indeed, that much of your own personality is out of your control or behaves like it at any rate.
More often than not, instead of goals achieved, we get outcomes which we hope are more or less in line with our values even if they are not in line with our dreams.
It goes without saying that in this process we will accumulate regrets.
It also goes without saying that if we inquire too deeply into our regrets, if we continue to question ourselves again and again as to what happened and why, then regret will poison our lives.
Somehow we have to find a way to be willing to experience the pain of regret without adding to it by going over and over the story again and again.
Sometimes I wish that there was an annual ceremony in which we would all meet up at the end of the year, not to make resolutions to turn ourselves into super-beings but to collectively honour our regrets, our missed opportunities, the things we did and the things we did not do.
In such a strange ceremony we might recognise ourselves in each other and we might find peace.
Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind - Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email.