It’s a fresh New Year and everywhere you look there’s more advice for how to make this year better than the last. And a lot of those admonitions center around ways to live without regrets.
Certainly lists of things you are likely to regret at the end of your life or the reminders like the caregiver’s list of the most common regrets of the dying are important as you set your intentions for the year to come.
But by now most of us already have regrets, experiences and choices we carry around like a hobo’s bag, throwing them in front of us or hauling them up behind us every time we jump a new train. Even if we lived in such a way as to never make a poor choice again we’d be hard put to say we were going to the grave free of regrets.
The dictionary says regret can be defined as “a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.”
Who doesn’t think back on some aspect of their past and recognize how their life, or the lives of other people, might have been different, even better, if such and such hadn’t happened or if they hadn’t said something, or done something, or not said or done something?
But regret is more than looking back with recognition of choices made and outcomes experienced. It’s a feeling about those choices and outcomes – a “feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment.”
And you don’t have to take those feelings to the grave. But it’s likely that you will if you cannot do these two things.
One – Live with intention.
This is what all those articles and advice columns are talking about. Knowing what matters, keeping the main thing the main thing, doing the right thing and the thing that’s right for you, holding those you love close in your heart and never letting them forget how deeply they are loved.
Intention guides your choices, but it won’t guarantee that you’ll never have an experience or make a choice that causes that feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment. Living with intention doesn’t make you less human, it only makes you more aware, more considerate, more compassionate, more loving, and more mindful of your choices.
Two – Forgive
This is, I believe, harder than living with intention. And yet, it’s a natural extension of an intentional life.
We never intend to travel through our life weighted down by our past. And yet, there is a trap in that awareness that comes with an intentional life – as we become more mindful of what matters most, and more aware of how our choices and experience impact our lives and the world we live in, the more deeply we feel the weight of all the “wrongs” we’ve brought upon ourselves and others.
But we can also choose to be aware of the hidden blessings in every “wrong.” Blessings we may never be able to define, but which are inherent in any positive response to a negative situation. So if you choose a positive response, even now, no matter how many years have passed, you are creating the blessing however hidden it may be.
And that is where forgiveness comes in. Of course you’ll always be aware of how your experiences and choices shaped you and your life. Of course you’ll never excuse any choice you’ve made that caused damage to yourself or someone else. But being aware and responsible doesn’t have to carry the weight of regret if you forgive.
Forgive others for the choices they’ve made that caused harm to you. Forgive yourself for the choices you’ve made that caused harm to yourself or others. Forgive whatever power you believe in for “random” misfortunes that fell into your life. Forgive. Give those feelings away, leave that hobo’s bag on last year’s train. Choose a different track, and different direction.
Regret is a feeling. And we choose our feelings. Regret is choice you are free to make. But it is not a requirement.
Awareness and responsibility are vital to living an intentional life. Forgiveness is vital to living a life without regret.
Originally published on The Good Men Project