Is regret a valid emotion?

I’ve always wondered why we, as humans, regret certain acts of our past. “Maybe if I had done this differently, my life would have been so much better now” If you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense.

First of all, what exactly is regret?

Regret is the feeling when one ponders over the fact that they had done something differently in their life which would cause the series of events to change, which would result in a change in the present. But can you change the present? No. What you can do is change your course of action and alter your future to be different from what you think it might be if you didn’t change your action now.

I was once asked, “What is the biggest regret of your life?” I gave them two-three things I’d hoped I had done differently. That’s what regret really is. Physics tells us you can’t travel back in time. Which means you can’t change the series of events. Then why be sad about it?

In reality, you can’t “change” anything. The past, the present, or the future. That change itself is an illusion that you created, thinking of an alternate outcome. But if you start thinking of alternate outcomes, there are infinite different ways this decision of yours might pan out, with most of them being worse than what you’re regretting. So why get into stress or sadness thinking about what might happen in the future?

But unfortunately, we are all guilty of that in one way or another. Some of us might overthink and make things worse for us, and the people around us. Something that could have panned out simply is now made complicated. Why put yourself through that? The real battle is between you and your mind, and sadly, the mind wins most of the time, and you lose not just the battles, but even some relationships over it.

When you say you regret doing something in the past, you are wishing that the present that you’re living in, didn’t exist. You wish you lived in a different “present”. But how do you know that changing your past actions (if you could) would result in the exact “present” that you wish you were in? You don’t. And chances are, it won’t happen either. So instead of dwelling over what you did wrong, why not accept what happened and change for the better? It’s a very easy thing to understand, but not a very easy thing to follow.

In the end, nothing matters. Your past, your present, or your future. Because ultimately, things happen simply because they have to. That thing you regret doing years ago had to be done. And happiness lies on the thin line between accepting your fate and getting what you want. And that’s the simplest philosophy one can follow in life. Do what makes you happy, make conscious decisions, and don’t look back. The only time you have to look back in life is to smile at all the good memories you made along the way.

One of the most profound things I’ve heard on this is this quote from Sadhguru -

“You cannot suffer the past or the future because they do not exist. What you are suffering is your memory and imagination.”

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