Everyone defines how to live life differently. We all handle that annoying little, unsatisfied voice in their head called “regret” differently. Some do it like the ultra-confident Jennifer Lopez who embraces mistakes as part of who she is, as her life’s course. As US reports, she was once quoted saying: “I don’t regret what I’ve been through. I’ve had ups and downs, super highs and some really low lows. I’ve been so blessed that I could never say, ‘I wish this didn’t happen.’ It’s part of who I am.”
In fact, when people in their 70s and 80s are asked advice about how the young should live their lives, ‘to live without regrets,’ is one of the most common responses. The Oxford dictionary defines regret as, ‘to feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that one has done or failed to do)’. This means there are two types of regrets. One goes along the lines of: “I regret having been so bluntly honest with my brother during Thanksgiving dinner last year.” The other sounds more like, “I regret not having had the courage to be honest with my brother at Thanksgiving last year. Because maybe he needed some honesty in his life to get him out of a bad spot that only became worse with time because no one ever spoke up to him.”
Psychologists say that when it comes to regrets, people feel much worse about the things they failed to do rather than the things they actually did. Why does this occur? Well, there’s something about the human psyche that helps us rationalize our errors and move on thankfully. So while guilt over doing and saying stupid things fades away with time and distance, Columbia University research shows regret over missed opportunities for fun and expression is much more problematic down the line. Lost chances along the lines of, “I regret not having told my mother how much I truly loved her when she was alive,” or “I regret not skipping off to India with my best friends that time,” or “I regret not having kissed him when I had the chance.”
So what has experiencing regret taught our sage elders? Over and over we read how an overwhelming number of senior citizens regret not spending enough time with their families and friends in exchange for working and stressing so much about the small stuff. Karl Pillemer of Cornell University interviewed nearly 1,500 people age 70 and over for his book 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, and the five pieces of advice that were repeated over and over were: Always be honest. Say yes to opportunities. Travel more. Choose a mate with extreme care. Say it now.
Remember that Nike slogan, ‘Just do it?’ Though the company may have been just selling sneakers, their ad men were onto something deep about human existence. An idea so simple that it is the stuff of life: those milliseconds where we hesitate and squelch our desire for something a little crazy in exchange for something that’s plain old safe. Just do it… plant that tree, make that movie, write that book, ask that guy on a date. If it’s not going to cause you to get killed or divorced, go ahead and be bold—live life to the fullest. Trust us on this one, you’ll end up regretting it if you don’t.