Introspective Regret

Sep 27, 2013 by

          When making decisions, especially big ones, I think in terms of potential regrets. I picture myself, old and wrinkly, looking back on my life, and I imagine what that woman would want present-day me to do. That’s how I came to the decision to finally make my goal of an extended European adventure a priority, leading me to decline the opportunity to further my education, allocate more money to my dream fund than I do to student debt repayment or retirement, and temporarily take my focus off of my career path. I knew that, between not going back to school, not abolishing my debt (fuck you, university), not maxing out my TFSAs, not climbing the corporate ladder, and not travelling Europe, older me would most regret twenty-something me not embarking on her dream European escapade. Honestly, who rests on their deathbed and thinks, shit, I wish I paid off that OSAP loan sooner?

          Imagined regret is an excellent way to put options into perspective in order to make optimal choices. It helps me to identify what is most important to me and to strive for what I truly value. It’s a part of why The Happiness Experiment exists. I try not to think about the 23 years that I feel I wasted prior to The Happiness Experiment. What’s done is done, and I’ve finally learned how to move on from the past. However, the fact that I regret living by the expectations of others and placing too much emphasis on things that I personally didn’t care about (such as my degree and my old job) has taught me to live for me. Executing that sometimes involves entering the mind of future me, an obviously really cool chick, and asking her what she thinks about my current circumstances. Doing so leads to happiness, because that wise woman always tells me to choose the option that makes me most happy, never having forgotten the consequences of the days when we did not.

          Since I consider contemplative regret to be a helpful decision-making tool, I was thrilled to see the topic discussed twice in writings that I’ve read in the past few months. I first encountered the concept in literature while reading The Lost Girls. I laughed aloud whenever Amanda Pressner referred to her 80-year-old self, who she looks to when making choices. I hadn’t realized that other people do this too.

          More recently, I came across the topic in The Huffington Post. Of course, given that I find pondering potential regrets to be positively insightful, I was instantly attracted to the title, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. Written by Joe Martino, this article features excerpts from a book of the same title by Bronnie Ware. It discusses the idea of using regrets to make good choices, listing regrets of the dying to help the youthful prioritize. It is definitely worth reading in full, but to summarize, below are the top five regrets of the dying, as noted by Martino in reference to Ware. I love the wisdom that each of them holds, particularly the first and fifth regrets.
          1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
          2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
          3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
          4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
          5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
          On the topic of learning from regrets and proceeding differently, though I absolutely love my life as it currently is, if I could change just one thing that I regret, I would go back to the night that hot bartender told me he wanted to take me out for dinner and not tell him that I was 18! #stupidmove. I could have been in a five-year relationship with the equivalent of a god right now! Furthermore, if I could give 18-year-old Maria some advice, I’d tell her to act like a classy slut. Twenty-three-year-old Maria is totes paying for her lack of experience. Fortunately, though, she seems to have internalized this lesson as of late. #spontaneity!

Happiness Tip: Consult future you.

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