Why Having Regrets Isn’t Totally Bad

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Nothing we experience in life is ever wasted or out of our power to change.

Regrets, we all have them. Sometimes it can be as simple as wishing we had taken a side street instead of the freeway because now we’re stuck in traffic and late to work. Or it can be something more serious, like wondering if we’ve lost the chance to build the life we want because of a past mistake.

Amy Summerville, an associate psychology professor at Miami University, runs a research lab focused how and why people experience regret. In a 2017 podcast interview with NPR’s Hidden Brain, Summerville mentions why she got into studying regret:

One of the things that ... drew me to regret ... is the fact that regret is among our most common emotions. By some estimates, it's the second most common emotion mentioned in daily life and the most common negative emotion that we mention.

It’s no surprise that regret is the second-most common experienced emotion, and the first is negativity. We all have that relationship we wish we had ended earlier, feeling like we wasted so much time. Or, the career we put off pursuing for the same old desk job that did little more than pay the bills. But in Buddhism, nothing we experience in life is ever wasted or out of our power to change.

But in Buddhism, nothing we experience in life is ever wasted or out of our power to change.

Buddhism teaches that rather than remaining stuck in the past, we should live in the present moment because this is where the future is created. If you don’t like the person you were yesterday or even 20 minutes ago, you have the ability to decide what type of person you will be moving forward, starting now.

In that sense, even the seemingly wasted relationship or job is actually of major value because, without it, how would you know what it looks like to become the person you’ve always wanted to be?

It’s not about what happened (or didn’t happen), it’s about what’s in our hearts at this moment. Ikeda continues:

Instead of being imprisoned by the past, by transforming our mind-set, or deep-seated resolve, we can change the meaning of our past; through our actions, we can create value and open the way to a new life starting from this present moment.

October 2019 Living Buddhism, p. 62

So that thing we’ve been holding on to and beating up ourselves about, it doesn’t have to be a source of regret. It can be the reason we realize a beautiful future. As Buddhists, every morning when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, it’s like giving ourselves a new lease on life.

Because each day we get to decide that every aspect of our lives has value, even the parts we tend to hide away.

Because each day we get to decide that every aspect of our lives has value, even the parts we tend to hide away.

Rather, it’s because of those things that we are able to grow.

Tell yourself the next time you’re stuck in a loop of regret, “Hey, I can grow from this and become the person I’ve always wanted to be.” And just start, from this moment forward.

 

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