The Value of Regret

Regret has a bad name these days.

Sometimes it feels like you can’t go five minutes without seeing a motivational meme decrying regret as the greatest of all possible mistakes.

Live with no regrets!

Never regret your past, it made you who you are in the present!

Never regret anything because at one time it was exactly what you wanted!

Somehow, we’ve got the idea that regret is a bad thing. There’s a strange idea out there that a regret is something you would change, if given the chance. That by regretting something, you’re admitting that you wish you (and your life) were different.

But, hang on. Is that what regret is really about? Let me grab my handy Macquarie Dictionary and have a look.

Regret: -gretted, -gretting.

  1. to feel sorry about (anything disappointing, unpleasant, etc.)
  2. to think of with a sense of loss; to regret one’s vanished youth
  3. a sense of loss, disappointment, dissatisfaction, etc.
  4. the feeling of being sorry for some fault, act, omission, etc. of one’s own.
  5. (plural) feelings of sorrow over what is lost, gone, done, etc.
  6. a polite and formal expression of regretful feelings

In that defiintion, there is absolutely no indication that regret is based on the desire to change your past actions. Rather, regret is a feeling associated with sadness, sorrow, disappointment, and loss. It’s a feeling engendered by taking responsibility for doing or saying something about which you later feel sorry.

Saying that you want to live life with no regrets is like saying you never want to feel sorry for anything; that you’ll never look back on a situation with a sense of loss or disappointment.

We all have regrets. Some are big and some are small. Some are things we wish we could change. Some are things we wouldn’t change for the world — although we feel sorry for the effect they had on other people. Having regrets is normal. Having regrets is good.

Do you know the value of regret?

Regret teaches us what not to do. If we didn’t feel regret — if we never felt sorry for our actions — then we’d keep doing the same things, and making the same mistakes, over and over again.

Regrets teach us how to be the person we want to be.

break by Anonymous -

When I was ten years old, I had a fling with a boy named Stephen. It was pretty hardcore.

  • On Wednesday, I told my friends to ask his friends to ask him if he wanted to go out with me.
  • On Thursday, he told his friends to tell my friends to tell me that the answer was yes.
  • On Friday, we smiled at each other across the classroom.
  • On Saturday and Sunday I doodled our names together inside love hearts, and practiced signing my name with his surname.
  • On Monday, we sat across from each other at lunch and avoided making eye contact.
  • On Tuesday, he told me I was dumped.

Like I said, hardcore.

A week later, I found out Stephen was seeing one of my friends. They were spotted holding hands after school. I was furious. Clearly, he needed to be taught a lesson.

Twice a year, the school held a variety concert. Anyone could nominate themselves and their friends to do a performance in front of the school. And every concert, Stephen sang Summer Holiday to public acclaim. It was very much his song. He was famous for it. (Within the school, anyway.) So, I decided, that should be the means to get public revenge on him for breaking my ten-year-old heart.

I signed up to sing in the concert as well. But not just any song. Oh, no. I signed up to sing Summer Holiday. First. Ha! That would teach him!

It didn’t take me long to regret that decision. In fact, I regretted it the moment I walked on stage, in front of hundreds of students, teachers and parents, and realised one important thing.

I didn’t know the words.

break by Anonymous -

Would I go back and change what I did? Maybe. Or maybe not. Because I learned a couple of valuable things from that experience.

  1. Revenge is a fool’s game, much more likely to make an idiot out of me than you. Don’t do it.
  2. At the very least, don’t try to get revenge on by competing with someone in the arena where they’re strongest!

That’s a true story. Although it’s clearly not the biggest regret of my life, it illustrates my point: Don’t be afraid of regret.

Regret is not a bad thing. Sure, dwelling on your regrets will get you nowhere. But neither will dwelling on your successes. So stop dwelling and start living. Accept your regrets, embrace them, and learn from them. Just don’t expect them to disappear.

And now I’ll leave you with a quote from Katherine Hepburn:

I have many regrets, and I’m sure everyone does. The stupid things you do, you regret… if you have any sense, and if you don’t regret them, maybe you’re stupid.

How do you feel about regret? Do you have a funny regret you’d like to share?

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11 Comments

Filed under Opinion

11 responses to “The Value of Regret

  1. It’s funny. I was thinking about regret just the other day when I blogged about the competition prompt I had to come up with. I don’t think it’s a bad thing as you so eloquently stated. It should take its place with the rest of the emotions we have and not be any less important.

    I can’t think of a funny regret, but I quite liked yours! Thanks for this post!

  2. You’re totally right – as always. At 5th grade camp they held up all the underwear that they found in the bathrooms. It was the end of the session and was supposed to be funny. No one ever claimed them. I did. I don’t know why. But I was “that girl” for a long time. Yes, I regret that.

  3. Love this post…Yes, regret is a must.
    In my opinion, only a psychopath cannot feel regret.
    So, suppression of regret, regretfully might lead to Psychopathy.

    YOLO generation, Please take a note, .

  4. Pingback: The Value of Regret « Thoughtrepostrepository

  5. ava

    “…and practiced signing my name with his surname.” < I was this girl too! Very nice post Jo.

    I've attended this seminar about Good Parenting and what the speaker emphasized is about identifying and naming feelings. She talked about our tendency to label feelings as bad or good, one of her example was, when we feel scared, usually we label it as a bad feeling. She said it does not necessarily mean it is a bad feeling. Feeling scared makes us more cautious, so in a way it is also good. 🙂

    • I couldn’t agree more, Ava. I’ve always made a conscious effort to talk to Big Brother about his feelings, and to validate the fact that they exist without undermining his right to feel them — but also make it clear that there are appropriate ways to react to these feelings.

      For example, I never tell him that he shouldn’t feel angry. Instead, I’d say something like, “It’s okay to feel angry. I understand. But even when you feel angry, it’s not okay to hit/throw things. Let’s think of some more appropriate ways we can behave when we feel angry.”

  6. changeforbetterme

    Well as you all, I have regrets also. I never thought regrets as a bad thing, I hope I used regrets not to repeat something so I wouldn’t add to the list, but being stubborn probably doesn’t help. Hey! damn there’s another regret….sigh 😉

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