Living with No Regrets (is bullshit)

This is going to shake some people up. I think it will, anyways, based on the number of people who claim “NO REGRETS!” as their mantra (hashtag YOLO?).

I’ll disclaimer this by saying that I’m not picking on the sentiment behind the “no regrets” claim. I just feel the need to tear the literal concept apart. “No regrets! ” sounds increasingly like a thin veil of optimism, rather than a genuine way to live. Because, honestly, can you really be an emotionally healthy human being without a little bit of this?

Basically, regret is what happens when empathy meets taking responsibility. “I feel bad that you’re feeling bad. I feel worse because I played a role in the situation. I’m going to apologize and move forward with my life now, but I will remember this so I don’t repeat it in the future because that’s what a genuine apology looks like, guys.”

Every time you apologize sincerely, you express regret. Every time you feel a little guilty, the lessons from that (constructively) become a part of who you are. Even if you have to cancel on a friend, the regret that it was necessary (again, empathy meets responsibility) is probably a genuine sentiment.

So where does this concept of living with “no regrets” stem from? I think it boils down to two basic principals:

  1. You should move forward with your life, instead of dwelling on the past.
  2. Everything you have been through got you where you are today, so…God bless the broken road, amiright?

These both sound great in theory, but I don’t think you have to completely abandon healthy regret to value these imperfect ideas.

You should move forward with your life, instead of dwelling on the past: Okay, yes. Dwelling is not a good scene in any case–dwelling on future worries, on past loss, on that zit you can’t get rid of. I think aiming for “no dwelling” is a good call. But regret doesn’t have to be debilitating. It doesn’t have to be obsessive. It just has to be genuine and, hopefully, constructive. Maybe this is my history major talking, but completely tossing out the past seems like a dangerous game to me. Healthy regret doesn’t mean wishing moments or people back from the dead. But it does mean conducting a fair autopsy.

Everything you have been through got you where you are today: “But but, crazy blogger lady, ‘no regrets’ just means we value those mistakes instead of feeling bad about them!” I hear you. I get it. Especially on the “moving forward” front, this is a decent attitude. But I truly believe that when you have done something bad, “feeling bad” about it is healthy. It shouldn’t be a guilt that consumes your future, but it should affect you somewhat. It should make you take pause.

Sometimes we make bad decisions. You can marvel at the way “everything worked out in the end,” or see the silver lining, but you are still allowed to feel negatively about certain consequences and take responsibility for your role. You’re allowed to regret making a mess. You’re also allowed to feel proud when you clean it up, or build something new. It’s all part of the same game. Healthy regret helps you learn from your past, and to see those lessons fabricate.

Yes, I think there is such a thing as healthy regret. And while “NO REGRETS!!!” is a pretty ridiculous idea, it’s fair to say that there’s an ugly side of the sentiment that should be actively avoided.

Healthy regret should:

  • Be forgiving and constructive
  • Motivate you to apologize sincerely
  • Allow you to recognize when you are inconveniencing another person
  • Allow you to recognize when you have made bad decisions
  • Help you make better decisions
  • Force you to challenge yourself and find solutions in the future
  • Make you more forgiving of other peoples’ mistakes
  • Make you more grateful for the positive things in your life, as they stand in contrast to those regrets

Healthy regret should NOT:

  • Force you to live in the past
  • Fuel victim mentality
  • Be applied to something that happened to you, which you never had control over
  • Assign blame outside of loving self-reflection
  • Work against forgiveness
  • Create debilitating guilt or fear
  • Lower your self-worth
  • Make you less grateful for your life because of past pain and mistakes

This is totally achievable. It has to be. Regrets are natural, and it’s hard to control when they come up. Instead of denying them, we should learn to process our regrets in a constructive way. And if we don’t…

Our apologies are going to really suck.

12 thoughts on “Living with No Regrets (is bullshit)

  1. A great post- and a wonderful break down of why platitudes like ‘no regrets’ can be damaging. Moving on is healthy. But moving on without any sort of reflection or analysis is irresponsible.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. This is brilliant…empathy meets responsibility….i think you should write a novel including that line just so it could seep into the larger world !

    Here in the States we have a long w/e for Columbus genocide day…but now that i remember its Thanksgiving up north, I think i’ll celebrate that. best to you!

  3. Thank you! Thank you so much. I get so tired of hearing “No regrets!” right before somebody I know does something that person and I both know will probably result in a great big steaming pile of regret. You write with clarity and insight. Thank you for that too.

  4. “Everything you have been through got you where you are today.” Yes! I remember hearing someone talk about the response that he heard a great speaker give to the question “How long did you prepare for the presentation?” “35 years.” Yes, that’s right… Everything we have done in life up until now, “good” or “bad”, makes us who we are right now. Another fabulous post.

  5. Finally! Someone! As a 22 year old I’m in the YOLO group, whether I want to be or not. YOLO is all “drink whatever and how much and live no consequences” not about siezing the day (and I admit to never being a huge carpe diem type other).

  6. The idea of living without regrets, as I see it, would simply be a choice you can make. Not looking back, but a choice in the moment to do something that you will not regret. I do agree with what you wrote and it was written very well thanks for sharing!

  7. I have learned to never date a person who lives live with no regrets, they can hurt you very easily and with no remorse whatsoever, also be careful with people who never say sorry, lots of narcissists in this world.

  8. Thank you for this. The “No Regrets” phrase has always been a a big red flag to me and made me call “bullshit”. I like the way you have expressed it here.

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