When we think about regret, we often imagine the things we’ve done wrong or those missed opportunities that could have sent our life heading in another direction. But maybe, we’re focusing our regret on all the wrong things.
To get a clear vision of regret, it takes hindsight, whether in terms of many years of life or perhaps surviving a major trauma. In either case, the revelations could point to not only what makes up a valid regret, but also how a life should be lived. If you’ve ever wondered about the regrets you have, then the following two examples may help put your own experiences in perspective.
The first example comes from New Yorker magazine, which published a piece about people that had attempted suicide from the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Long considered the “suicide capital of the world,” it was thought that an average of 26 people a year decided to commit suicide per year by jumping off the bridge. What the New Yorker piece examined was how life had continued for those that survived the jump and what they found was a surprisingly consistent theme about how survivors responded.
In nearly every case, the person immediately experienced regret as soon as they had jumped. For one survivor, the moment was remembered very clearly. He stated in the article that he realized that while his life was not going well at the time that he jumped, as soon as he jumped he knew that everything could be fixed – everything except for jumping. This realization and the instant regret experience by almost all that survived the attempted suicide shows that most of our regrets can be repaired as long as we take the appropriate steps.
The second example concerns a group of dying patients in Australia. A hospice nurse curious about regrets asked the patients what was their biggest regret. The answers identified two responses that were much more common than others and are probably not the ones you would have guessed.
The most common regret among this group of dying patients was that they had not been true to themselves. Given situations where they faced external pressure, they had succumbed instead of following what they believed to be the right choice. Caving to this external pressure had stolen both time and often the opportunity to follow their passions.
More surprising is the second most common regret, which was that many of the patients felt like they had worked too much in their life instead of focusing on friends, family, and other concerns. These responses help to confirm the thoughts that many people have about the current importance placed on job and working identities.
Regret is a very difficult idea to conceptualize without the benefit of hindsight, but if you look at the responses of the two groups presented above, you’ll see some interesting insights. Realizing that mistakes can be fixed is an important part of limiting regrets and we should always be striving to spend more of our time on those activities where we place the highest amount of value, such as our passions and the people we care about.
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