Don’t Let Regret Ruin Your Happiness

life is betterThere was a writing contest in Real Simple magazine, and the prompt was a thought experiment.  It said, “in your life, what would you do differently if you could go back in time?”

The prize was hefty, so I ripped out the contest page.

I opened up my computer, and came up with a blank slate.  I switched to my notebook, thinking maybe it was the medium.

“I wouldn’t have written that check for $20,000” was as far as I got.  I thought I could explain myself — how I’d written on those checks that come with your credit card — do they even do that anymore? — and my life would be different today.

But then I kept thinking.

Sure, absolutely my life would be different. But would it be any better?

Regret Can Mess With Your Happiness

Think about the last time you said, “if only…” and think about how that made you feel. My coworker said the other day, “if only I had as much money as you (not to me! ha!) I would be so happy.” But that’s not true. I know he wouldn’t be happier with more money. If money = happy (which we ALL know it doesn’t) then my coworker would be almost anywhere else. Because our company is a lot of wonderful things. But a lucrative career option is not one of them.

If only… I’d finished my degree in computer science and not switched to politics. Then I’d have more money. And less happiness.

If only… I’d never moved back from DC. Then I wouldn’t be where my heart tells me I should be. And I’d be smack dab in the middle of a darn tropical storm! So, thanks, intuition.

If only… I hadn’t written such a dumb amount of money on a check from my credit card. But then? I wouldn’t be blogging. Or worse! I’d be underwater on a mortgage in DC, and I wouldn’t have gotten to move back to Portland, the land that I love.

Live in the Moment

It’s so important to be present. If you’re always yearning for the next thing, or worse, regretting the decisions your past self has made, then you’re always going to be discontent.

And I know I don’t know you in real life (except for the two people I met who said, “oh I know you from The College Investor!” which really made my day) but I bet you are awesome and your life is awesome.

Right now, I am single. While I could be sad about that, I think very often about my future self. I think things like, hey, future Kathleen, you know what you got to do on Saturday, October 27, 2012? Whatever you wanted! You wrote in your journal, you worked on a website, and you didn’t shower or eat until 1:30. And you were ever so content. Before you got a chance to be lonely, you went over to a friend’s house, and from there, you went to another friend’s house. Sincerely, past Kathleen.

If you don’t recognize how amazing your today-life is, you might miss out. Then you’ll be 35, cleaning spit up off the ceiling, and you will look back on your 30-year-old self and wish you had really understood that you were happy.

And darn it. If you aren’t happy, get there, okay? It’s really wonderful on the happy side of life.

Get Rid Of Your Student Loans - Legally!
Sign up below and discover 3 ways to ditch your student loans.

A lot of places will tell you that you can't get out of your student loans. But guess what? There are ways to do it, and I give them away for free right here.


  1. says

    I agree, definitely don’t live in regret! This is something that I always struggle with, due to everything with my parents. Living your life NOW is better.

  2. says

    Good wisdom here. We can learn from our past instead of dwelling on it, and then live in the moment. We have precious few days overall when you think about it, so we should appreciate what we do have.

  3. says

    I had a friend who sent me an e-message recollecting a time when a bunch of us had shared an apartment as roommates. He relayed that it had been the best time of his life.

    I wrote him back saying it had been for me, too, but that today could be the happiest time in our lives, too, if we chose to live it. We can look back on times and enjoy the memories, but those memories will be so much sweeter if we’ve enjoyed them in the present.

    A few months later he had met and gotten engaged to the love of his life. He was the happiest he had ever been.

    A few months after that he died in a car crash.

    It’s so important to live in the now. Tomorrow may never come, and if they do, today will be the stuff for the memories of yesterday.

    Beautiful post, Kathleen.

  4. says

    Kathleen-I am loving this post. You and I are on the same brainwave lately!

    If only…I had taken a year off in between schools instead of immediately transferring to the one my Dad worked at. Then I wonder who I’d be, who I would have met, and what I’d be doing. Regret is nasty, and dangerous.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *