The Futility of Regret

If you could press a button and reset your life to any point you desired, keeping all your memories from today, would you do it?

As a kid growing up, my answer was an eager ‘YES!’ I would have pressed it frantically, hastily, repeatedly. I would have clawed through crowds of people, and turned feral, for a shot at that button.

As a kid, and even well into my adolescence, this was my deepest held fantasy. I don’t know how many hours I spent ruminating over different versions of this scenario. What if I went back one day? One year? My whole life? How would I live my life as an infant with the mind of a sixteen year old? What preordained facts could I remember to guarantee a large bankroll for my perfect existence?

Looking back, though, I think the intense fascination was a grim indicator of my unhealthy mind. What does it say about someone’s perception on their life when they’d scrap it all in a heartbeat? How simple, narrow-minded, and naive their view on life to think that it would be perfect without mistakes? And how daft to think that other mistakes wouldn’t immediately arise anyway? As a boy I was unable to frame my negative experiences as lessons, nor to accurately weigh them against my positive ones. I lacked gratitude, and I was buried by regret.

That fantasy has since become a fossil; a harmless curiosity evincing the nature of my mind’s past. It and all its conceptual cousins have gone extinct under the climate of my current disposition. As a narrative, my life has improved to a measure that I wouldn’t want to re-roll the dice. It is probable I’d fare worse on a second go.

I’ve since developed a gratitude that highlights my blessings, so as to see them on dark days. And I track my misfortunes, so as to witness the roll they play in later advantage. Together these qualities convince me of a certain deterministic quality to my being. Each and every experience, good or bad, has nudged or shoved me into this exact moment, as this exact person. A move back in time would be an unraveling of my person-hood, experience by experience. Since I am happy with this life, how can I justify the risk of resetting it all?

If this mountain of subjective conviction wasn’t enough, there’s also the pinnacle of stultifying explanation which confirms the attitude. A rational scrutiny of the ‘Life Reset Button’ reduces it to absurdity from every angle. The quality of me, the unique structure of my brain, the neural wiring that makes up my personality, exists in a physical capacity, and is subject to the laws of Physics, Chemistry and Biology. These hard Sciences each describe a universe in which every moment tumbles into the next with smooth continuity. There is little room for spontaneity; of creation of matter or energy, of rearrangement of molecules, and thus of the sudden appearance of a complex neurological network. To think of how my present mind could possibly be physically injected into a precise moment in time and space, in accordance with everything known about matter and energy, is beyond futile.

In light of this gratitude (that even my mistakes add to my being), and under the pressure of this explanation (that each moment is a unalterable link in a chain of causation), regret crumbles to meaningless dust. And for me, it was in the months following my first year of travel that I came to the point of relinquishing all regret. I have not felt regret since 2013; about incidents prior, or about incidents since. From that point on, I’ve lived with an appreciation for the experiences that shape my life.

As is the usual case, this epiphany developed gradually, then only crossed a threshold as a result of one major event. I was fortunate in that my unluckiest blunder brought about my luckiest stroke of fate.

In early 2013 I was traveling the wonderful country of India. I was set upon it with an unbounded openness and trust which continually produced amazing experiences. Every time I put in a quarter of trust, and pulled the handle of opportunity, the slot machine of India hit the jackpot. In retrospect it was naive to think my luck wouldn’t run out.

It did. I’m going to spare myself the painful task of explaining each minute decision so that an anonymous reader might understand. But the end result was that I was scammed for $6,000 and ejected to Australia. Considering the cost of the comped flight, that number drops to $4,800. Worse errors have been made by better people.

However, unbeknownst to be, the track that my life was bunted onto lead express to the best experience of my life. It brought me to meet one of my favorite people on the planet. Its course meandered to a place I’ll forever call home. One stop on its wayward route would be the site of a indescribably profound awakening; an expansion of consciousness that would supplement, reinforce, and headline all the personal growth I’d experienced over the prior year travelling. And I’d fall in love with a fellow passenger.

If the devil himself, incarnate as a tour salesman, offered such a package, I’d lay down double my swindled lot.

As I’ve spared myself the pain of explaining my failure, I’ll spare myself the pleasure of describing my triumph.

This post is not for illustrating the silver lining of one particular experience. It is to cast regret in the futile pit to which it belongs. Not only are mistakes inevitable, the choices involved are unalterable consequences of an unknowable multitude of subtle influences. You couldn’t have done any differently.

Regret is an unhealthy fixation that should be cleaved from the conscious focus. A blunder might offer insight into the world, clues to how one might do better in the future, but these are lost under the pall of regret.

And if that’s not enough to vanquish regret, consider that mistakes almost always lead to blessing. That blessing might assume the form of unexpected wisdom. It may take time to appear. It may take inhuman searching to discover. But it cannot but exist because every experience nudges us along, changes us, alters our perspective, adds to our knowledge. Only the dead are unaffected.

Thank you for reading.

-C

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