Among the many curious truths about human life, this is perhaps the most unusual: we often, and knowingly, act in ways that will sow the seeds of unhappiness.
We incur consequences and inherit bad decisions not necessarily because we picked an obviously bad choice. But sometimes wisdom comes to us only much later – so we fail to see through the thinly veiled illusions of our immediate choices. And then we come to regret our decisions.
Ware, a nurse working in palliative care for many years, compiled the common regrets of patients, who on the precarious edge of death, gain the phenomenal clarity of vision.
The most common regret is listed first.
Regret (1): I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
For a great deal of people, most of our time is spent worrying about what others think of us. We are not sure if we are perceived as a good leader, wonder if our superior will grace us with a praise today or spend time trying spruce up a portfolio. We worry so much about something that we forget to think about ourselves.
It doesn’t stop there. We also pick the battlefield that makes us miserable. For example, we know leadership is a political game that’s often painful and sometimes morally bankrupt, but we choose to play in it anyway; we install ourselves in the company of people who provide us pleasure but limited room for self-growth; we sometimes squander relationships with careless abundance.
And after everything’s worn off, the haze of regret sets in.
Regret (2): I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
We run the hamster wheel because we have bills to pay, and whether we like our jobs or not, it can frequently become a numb mechanical routine. And time spent excessively working is dedication lost somewhere else.
Balance between work and life is not simply an allocation of hours. It’s a careful consideration of knowing what’s really, really important to us in our lives, and then giving up our time to pursue it. But do we really know what’s important in our lives?
It’s worth remembering that a company (or an organisation) is a construct, and though it always, always calls for our loyalties, we will never be rewarded in the same spirit of a wonderful, deep, heart to heart talk with someone we love. It is after all, a thing, not a being.
Regret (3): I wish I had the courage to express my feelings
Sometimes to maintain friendships, we say what our friends want to hear, even at the risk of being dishonest with ourselves. When we want to keep our business partners around, we suppress our feelings to keep an equal pacing with them. But what’s left of us?
Few of us have truly honest and spiritually uplifting conversations – the sort that warms the heart, expands our limited understanding non-judgementally, and graces the mind so joyously that short of the threat of starvation, we really just want to keep the conversation going. In a world where lying is the default position, an honest talk is a rare gem to have.
Somewhere out there, we have lost ourselves and have forgotten what it means to hold such an earnest conversation. Even with our parents and spouses, secrets are kept, feelings are played down and eyes are sometimes averted. And who can be blamed?
No one taught us that personal communication skills, thinking skills and raw honesty are the most important things to be in possession of. Yet ironically, we receive no grades for them – education provides little emphasis, and we are left short-changed for the entirety of our adult life.
It’s a pity that the recurring tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late. Our miseries are by our own hands.
So have you thought (HYTA) about what your regrets are?