The Transformational Benefit of a Regret

Regrets: There are Benefits


Recently, while laid up at home and too sick to do much of anything, I ended up watching a bunch of TV and videos.  After way-too-many-hours of general poor quality “entertainment”, I stumbled onto a few TEDTalks.  I’d watched them before and had really enjoyed them, finding these talks not only entertaining, but also educational and thought-provoking.

On this particular afternoon, I clicked onto a talk that was about the regrets of the dying.  Feeling at the time that I too was nearing my own ultimate demise, feeling sorry for myself and generally pretty crummie, I ended up watching this cheerie subject matter.  As I started to watch, I thought to myself, “why in the world would this be a topic of interest, the regrets of the dying…really?”.

The speaker went on to list the top five regrets of the dying. This apparently was a research-based finding, and so, being someone who pays some mild attention to the findings of empirical, rather than antidotal, research, I watched and listened with an increasing degree of interest, along with a health dose of a ‘ready-to-dismiss’ attitude.  Accordingly then, the top five regrets of the dying are as follows;

  1. Wising one had not worked as hard as they did. Well, this one came as no suprise at all.  This seems to be a universal regret, not only among dying, but for the living too.  I’m not trying to make fun of this at all, please foregive my tongue-in-cheek manner here. I’m only saying that this regret is so pervasive in our society that it was almost flippant to hear it in this particular talk.
  2. Wishing to have stayed in touch with friends more.  OK, this one, is again not too much of a suprising regret, but somehow this began to speak to me a little louder than the previously noted item. Unlike the previous regret, wishing to have stayed in touch with friends more seems to be closer to the heart of something more authentic and genuine.  Friendship.  Connection. Community.  This speaks of the human spirit and elements of our social needs. We are a social animal and are needing social connection.  Without human camaraderie, life indeed can be lonely, isolating and depressing.  Here, again, I became more engaged and attentive to this TEDtalk.
  3. Wishing to have the courage to express feelings more.  This one suprised me a lot. Why? Well, this is something that appears to go completely counter to our culture, that being, thou shall not feel, rather think and be analytical above all.  Consider momentarily all the professions that are founded on the scientific and/or mathematical process, such as university academics, medicine, scientific research, engineering, and most recently, the digital world of computing, coding, algorhythms and analysis.  We are so focused on rational thought and objective observation, that feelings and emotive experiences are dismissed as unworthy of consideration or acknowledgement.  So, this regret of not having expressed one’s feelings more over a life genuinely fascinated me.  Ask yourself, why would not expressing oneself be a regret? What actually is the regret? That you didn’t speak your truth, or express your needs more? Or is it that one was too fearful to take the risk of being emotionally vulnerable and exposed to someone else? Perhaps the regret is that you went along with things that you really didn’t want to?  Nevertheless, it calls for some inquiry about the meaning of this regret.  Not expressing one’s emotions can suggest that one did not lead a genuine and authentic life true to oneself and one’s own needs.
  4. Wishing to have the courage to live life true to oneself, and not the life others expected.  This, in my humble opinion, really seems to be a natural extension of the previously noted item.  This really is about not having lived a life with zeal and passionate, but rather one that was essentially lived by the metric of someone else’s ideas, or societal notions of what you should or should not be.  We clearly live in a capitalistic and matierialistic culture and society, one which values the pursuit of wealth over anything else.  Is it any wonder that we have worked too much and/or too hard?  This is then a bit of a double whammy, because as we work too much, trying be financially successful, we spend less time with family and friends, and then let go of our own hopes, dreams and passions. The result being a passionless life and another deep regret.
  5. Wishing to have allowed oneself to be happier.  This was also a universally common regret. And no wonder, this is likely the cummulative effort of the above mentioned items.  People clearly are not fully cognizant that happiness is a choice. Yup, it is a choice!  We have influence on our own lives, on our own feelings and ultimately, on our own destinies and how our lives unfold.  However, it appears that we tend to get stuck in familiar patterns and ways of doing and being, including emotional patterns.  Fear of change had many people pretending that they were content, when truthfully, they were desperately wanting to have more laughter and more silliness in their lives.

 How Does this Change Regrets?

Well, I started to think, how might any of this research and information about regrets be useful.  It is sort of sad that so many people were lying on their death beds having so many fundamental regrets. Thematically, these regrets suggest it is about human connection and relationship with other people, but also (and perhaps more importantly) with ourselves.  It also speaks to choice, and choosing how to be within the world, especially emotionally.  This then leads to the following wondering;

If you were lying on your death bed today, what would you regret?  This isn’t an easy question to answer, but give it a try for yourself.  What would you regret if you were to die today? Be honest with yourself. The question is worthy of deep consideration and thought because it will give you a compass-setting about what you need to change in your life.  For example, if you were to regret not spending more time with your children, then this clearly indicates to you that you need to spend more time with them! No brainer right!  This is easier said than done though.  If you share the same universal regret of wishing to be happier, well, this then begs the question, ‘how/what do I change so that there is more joy and happiness in my life?’. This naturally will be very different for all of us, but again, it is worthy of contemplation and consideration.

Lastly, my wish for us all is that when we are ultimately nearing our ending days, that we do not have any regrets, but rather are filled with appreciations for the way we have lived our lives.