living well

Is it possible to live without regrets?

14 Comments 16 May 2012

laying in the grass

Laying in the grass watching the clouds drift by is not one of my regrets!

Should we try?

I have many—some big, some small. I try to use them as learning points and not repeat my mistakes. Doesn’t always work.

Some time ago a Facebook friend posted a link to a Guardian article The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, a list created by a person who works with a lot of people who are at the end of their days.

Stop and think a minute what might have been the very most common regret of all. Or even what might have fallen in the top five.

Go on. Stop reading and look off into the distance and think about it.

* * *

One thing I do sometimes when I am caught in a difficult decision is think ahead many years to the old, old Michelle, the one in a sundress, rocking on the front porch watching the world on a warm evening after a day in the garden. She can hear her husband in the house, opening cupboard doors looking for something, about to come out on the porch and sit with her. A cat is standing at the edge of the porch trying to decide if it will turn and jump on old Michelle’s lap or chase the birds in the front lawn. And old Michelle is thinking about her family and specifically the one’s she’s about to go have dinner with.

Then young Michelle walks up the path to the house and leans against the porch rail. The cat watches her and stands to rub against her legs, looks up expectantly, and begins to purr when young Michelle bends to pick her up. Holding the cat, young Michelle asks old Michelle in the rocking chair a question. The question is answered, the cat jumps down, and young Michelle walks back down the path. The old Michelle sees her family arrive and she smiles and waves and they all tumble out of the car happy to see her too.

I can’t live without regrets but I try to make the best decisions I can in hope that I can make my life even better as I live day to day and in hope that one day old Michelle can sit in that rocking chair knowing she did her best all along. How sad it would be for that old Michelle to be rocking on the porch, watching the world and wishing she had done it differently.

* * *

So what did you come up with? What did you predict was the number one regret of people as they move out of this life?

The number one most common regret was the wish that they had lived their lives true to themselves, not the life others expected of them. It takes a brave person to turn to all the people around you and say, ‘sorry, that’s not what I want to do’, and leave their support and expectations, risking a lot (sometimes everything) and doing exactly what you think is best for yourself. I love reading stories about people who do this. Usually, I think I am living my life true to myself, with the help of the old Michelle.

The second most common regret was that they had worked so hard. No one lies on their deathbed and wishes they had spent more time at work. I’m a writer and I work hard, but I also put a lot of effort into being a good mum, a lovely wife, a decent cook, an experimental gardener, a fine cat owner, an avid book reader, am enthusiastic walk taker… I think I’m doing ok here as well.

Number three on the list was the wish that they had more courage to express their feelings. I tend to express my feelings (perhaps more than I should), so I’m ok with this one.

Number four? They wished they had stayed in touch with their friends. The thirties and forties are difficult, busy years for keeping in touch with people, but I can see how important this should be. Some people naturally move out of your life and there’s no need to stay in touch, while others are people I never want to imagine not knowing. As I write, I am thinking of ways I can stay in better touch with my friends–and family. My friends and family mean a lot to me, even the people I haven’t seen in years. I shouldn’t have let so much time go by between visits or other communication. This is a really important one for expats, as well.

And finally, number five is the regret that they hadn’t allowed themselves to be happier. The author said that many people did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. I don’t always choose to be happy, I must admit. Sometimes I choose to be irritated, or frustrated or hurt or angry and sometimes that’s because I’m trying to express my feelings to others, but other times it’s because I’m just acting on impulse, not even thinking about the choice I’m making. This is one I can work on as well.

So what about you, readers? What are your thoughts of living without regrets–how do you do it, or do you bother trying?

Does this list move you in any way? Will any of these be on your list of regrets one day?

Would you add any?


Your Comments

14 Comments so far

  1. Laura says:

    I try not to get caught up in the hullabaloo of life. Dictating what we should have & do. A couple of years ago the hubby started his own business. Not to become rich, but to buy back time. Time to spend together with our family. We could move to a bigger house or drive better cars, but choose to keep it simple and enjoy what we have. Lx

    • Michelloui says:

      I love that. I love that people are turning their back on the ‘money only’ salary package and instead are looking at the salary package with less £/$ and more time for family and quality of life. That’s great that you were brave enough to do that!!

  2. Expat Mum says:

    I think most people regret what they didn’t do, as opposed to things that they had done. I must admit I didn’t follow my true path when I was younger, career-wise, because it was too much of a gamble and I was probably fearing failure.
    With my own kids, I’m definitely encouraging them to follow their dreams in terms of what they want to do – as long as they have a plan and work hard at it.
    Life’s too short to have regrets about things you can’t change, but you can not only learn from them, but try to enjoy the life you’re experiencing. ANd if you’re really not having a good life, then what can you do about it?
    I hate to be cliche’d and quote Oprah, but if you live your best life, you’ll still make mistakes but there might not be as many regrets involved.

    • Michelloui says:

      Great point, that most people regret what they didn’t do. I regret a few things I DID do, I must admit, but hey ho. I like the pragmatic approach to following your dreams that you’re teaching your kids. You’ve got some good thoughts here. Even the Oprah quote is worthy–she got where she was for a reason, I guess!

  3. The Fool says:

    It’s all too easy to work hard to pay the bills and have your life consumed just by keeping up. Then all of a sudden a few years have past and you haven’t done anything to fulfil your dreams etc.
    Something I am struggling with at the moment is choice of job, do I stay in the job I enjoy that pays the bills and gives my family a good life or do I follow my dreams no matter what? Would hate to look back and regret not taking that chance.

    • Michelloui says:

      Hmmm…I wonder if you’ve just answered your own question? Like Expat Mum has said, most people seem to regret the things they didn’t do. It’s scary to make such a big decision. Good luck with it.

  4. susan kane says:

    I could not have said it any better or created any more to add to the list. Seeing less years ahead than are behind makes me think those exact same thoughts.

  5. Iota says:

    This is so pertinent, as we prepare to leave the US. Suddenly, I’m finding people I wish I’d spent more time with, corners of the city I never knew existed, activities that sound like fun. But I also know that this is inevitable. There’s a rosy sentimentality about it all, and an unusual energy. You couldn’t keep up the pace day-in-day-out over the years.

    I do have regrets in life, but I think it’s easy to have 20-20 vision in retrospect. Life is such a learning process. You mustn’t judge your past self by your present self.

    This is a poignant post, Michelle. Can the Old Iota come and have a cup of tea with the Old Michelle, and reminisce with her about the early days of blogging?

    “What were those things called…? You remember…”

    “Oh… d’you mean “computers”? Those old things?”

    “Yes! “Computers”. Those were the days…”

    • Michelloui says:

      The Old Michelle would love to sit and reminisce with the Old Iota! I can well imagine that as you approch this major life event you’re reflecting on your time there, but I expect you did as much as you really could, and yes, 20-20 in retrospect is soooo much easier than in the present. I try to not judge my past self by my present but that’s difficult, so I try to turn it into a learning point where I don’t make the same mistakes int he future.

  6. Caroline says:

    The world is so small
    my yoga teacher talked about exactly this article last week in teacher training.
    From the eyes of a yogi it’s clear:
    LIVE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT,enjoy your time and be happy!

    • Michelloui says:

      Caroline! You’re one of the old friends I was thinking about when I typed that I know I need to stay in better contact…! Thanks for commenting here. You are so right that living in the present moment brings much more happiness and clarity than worrying about what has happened or what might. Wish we were in the same yoga class.

      Namaste x

  7. Bod for tea says:

    This is such a thought provoking post. The point about choosing to be happy really resonated with me. Thanks for posting it.

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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