Is Regret Healthy?

June 1, 2010
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A significant amount of our lives are spent making decisions; from insignificant decisions like, ‘How should I do my hair today?’ to life changing decisions like, ‘Should I really marry him?’ Since you ask yourself so many questions, making a wrong decision is inevitable, (hence bad hair days and divorces) but should we look back and regret these situations, or learn from our mistakes and move on? Researchers say that regretting past actions plays an important part in our decision making – but not necessarily for the better.

Many naturally regret situations that could have ended differently. There is a difference between a regret, and obsession with that regret. Regret can flicker through your mind, linger, and then it is over, but an obsession can take you over, and change the way you think. Many regrets are because of something that you had before, and then didn’t have after the decision. For example, in Charlotte Bronte’s Poem, Regret, it says, ‘All my heaven was once thy breast, would it were mine again’, and this shows that the narrator once had everything that she wanted, and now does not, and therefore wishes that she had it again.

If one person spent their whole life regretting decisions, then in any future decisions that they make, they will never take chances and end up with a mediocre job, a mediocre house, and a mediocre life, as opposed to taking chances and having a challenging job, a beautiful home, and a well-lived life. Too much regret will cause misery and a life which cannot fulfil its true potential. Imagine then if every single person in the whole world regretted each decision that they made, our world would not be what it is today. We would all still be sending letters through the post for communication and riding around on bikes for transportation, because the innovative people of our world would be sitting around at home regretting any setbacks that may have occurred. Regret is natural, but does that mean it’s healthy? Cancer is natural, but that doesn’t make it healthy.

Suicide is one of the many topics which has controversy surrounding it. How can we stop suicide? Should we stop suicide? Is suicide ethically right? Controversy begins to intervene whenever somebody speaks of the regrets - the regrets of actions leading up to suicide and the regret of suicide itself. Many factors add up to suicide - personal trauma, fear of the unknown, and fear of the known. Nobody will know the implications of death until death itself, and this is one of life’s great mysteries. The thought of the unknown will drive many mad, but once the unknown has actually happened, will there be regret?

So, Is Regret Healthy? ‘Only if it leads to a positive future action’, says somebody in an internet forum concerning the topic. That person’s opinion balances out the question. On one hand, there is the fact that regret is unhealthy, causing too much repentance and depression in your life, but on the other hand, there is the fact that regret is healthy if you use it for good. For example, if you have committed a crime and you are on trial, regretting your actions could decrease your sentence. If a suspect goes into the court with a closed mind, not regretting, the chance is that the court will not forgive or believe them. However if the suspect goes in knowing they have done wrong, and asks for forgiveness, then the sentence could be shortened. This topic is controversial, because some courtroom judges will accept regret, and others will not, perhaps because some have experienced regret themselves, but others cannot relate to the suspects because they do not truly regret things.

Another person from the same internet forum says, ‘Duh, of course [regret is healthy]. People tend to keep doing the things they don't regret, and tend not to do the things they do regret. Regret is the psychological feedback mechanism by which we learn from our own behavior. We have a designation for people who lack the capacity to regret- Sociopath.’ A Sociopath is somebody affected with a personality disorder marked by aggressive violent, antisocial thought and behavior and a lack of remorse or empathy. So is anybody who does not nor cannot show remorse now a Sociopath? No. The definition of Sociopath is both irrelevant and inappropriate, and so is the forum user’s comment, because to be considered a Sociopath you would carry all of those symptoms, not just a lack of remorse. The user also states that ‘Regret is the psychological feedback mechanism by which we learn from our own behavior.’ He is right when he says this, because regret can be used for our own improvement if we learn from it.

Regret can be a used to somebody’s advantage if they can use it to point themselves in another direction; the right direction. Something as small as accidentally wearing fancy dress to a formal event will teach you to always check the dress code, and something as life changing as divorce can teach you to get to know somebody before you launch into a life changing and perhaps life ruining marriage. It is written in another poem by Charlotte Bronte called Life, that, ‘Sometimes there are clouds of gloom, but these are transient all’ this line is telling us that although bad things occur, they are very momentary. Therefore, what is the point in regretting these moments when it will all be over very soon? The poem goes on to say, ‘Life's sunny hours flit by gratefully, cheerily enjoy them as they fly!’ which is a message to us that we should enjoy life as it comes, because it will soon race by; there is no time for regret, just time for joy and thankfulness.

Regret is like medicine. Too much medicine can be dangerous, just as too much regret can lead to a downfall. A considered amount of regret, just as the right dosage of medicine, can point you towards the correct decisions in the future, and therefore a healthier future. Occasional regrets will make you stronger, because you can learn to change from them, so if you consider each tiny little decision that you make in life as a building block, and occasional regrets as cement, then by the time you reach the end of your life, you will have a strong wall, protecting you from impractical decisions. Whereas, if you regret every decision that you ever make, then you will have too much cement, causing your wall to fall down, because too much cement would not set in the right place, therefore it would not give the wall the steady support that it needs. Your life needs strong supports, and it will not have them if each decision that you make is regretted. Regret is healthy, but only in small doses.

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