“Regret is an example of a negative emotion that spurs people to problem-solving and personal betterment,” says Dr. Neal Roese, a leading researcher on regret and the author of If Only.
One positive purpose of regret is to help us learn from our mistakes, gain insight, and cultivate hope for the future. It signals us to stop and evaluate. By inflicting discomfort and or distress, it grabs our attention and begs us to question, “What could I have done differently?” Fact is, no one likes to think about their blunders. Perhaps this is the reason why some people insist they
“Reacting to a negative situation with imaginings of how it might have gone better is a nearly reflexive operation of the normal human brain, says Dr. Roese.
Hopefully, these imaginings lead us to more positive action. If so, the initial distress of regret vanishes fairly quickly.
Learning a lesson from regret
Here’s an example of helpful regret. Perhaps during a period of unrelenting stress, you may have snapped at your spouse. Understandably, feelings were hurt. You may have realized that not only were you extremely stressed that day, but also suffered from hunger and dwindling blood sugar. You should have eaten your meal before making that discussion. In hindsight, you should have paid
Notice that if a person takes time to reflect on his or her own bad behavior, he or she would identify the contributing factors to the way he or she has acted. Rather than stifle regret, we need to listen to it.
What if you made a career decision only to realize later that you have made a big mistake? “Regret feels bad, yes, but it also forces the individual to look inward and reassess the assumptions and patterns of the past,” Dr. Roese says.
After a period of soul-searching and sleepless nights, and you face the fact that you are unhappy, it may be necessary that you have to make another change instead of allowing yourself to be trapped there for the rest of your life, adding one more miserable soul to the human race.
Regret is most useful when it appears, serves its purpose and disappears. At its darkest, regret lingers and haunts us, perhaps for years, even decades. It distracts us from fully living in the present and sows the seeds of depression.