🤔 Living without Regrets is Impossible
Letter 151: The Power of Regret (part 1), Édith Piaf, the story of a Chinese farmer, James Baldwin, Makua beach
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Aloha fellow learn-it-all 👋
Greetings from White Plains Beach in Ewa, Oahu!
I’ve been dog and housesitting this past week for the first time. It’s been different with having dogs as roommates instead of people. They look at me like I’m crazy when I need a sounding board and start talking to them.
Also, it’s made me more aware of how irregularly I eat since I need to make them on a regular schedule, especially for the older fella Sully for all his medication and vitamins. It feels rewarding to feed those faces instead of feeding my own first each morning and evening.
Anywho I wrote a couple weeks ago about the new habit of mine of monogamous book reading. All the processing of my notes is still going on, so there will be another part to this regret newsletter.
For this week, you’ll read some links to a song, article and video that this book prompted deeper thoughts around whether regrets can be avoided. I also included seven techniques for you to start applying if you want to know what to do with all these regrets in life. These are inspired from the book called The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Daniel H. Pink.
Now, let’s dive into letter 151 from a learn-it-all. Enjoy!
❓Question to think about
Can I live life without regret?
Non, rien de rien.
Non, je ne regrette rien.
C’est payé, balayé, oublié.
Je me fous du passé.
In English this translation from French means:
No, nothing at all.
No, I regret nothing at all.
It’s paid, swept away, forgotten.
I couldn’t care less about the past.
In 1960, the French and frail chanteuse Édith Piaf performed this two-minute nineteen-second song enough times to help the Parisian concert venue L'Olympia stay alive and even received twenty-two curtain calls. This elevated her status to an icon before the end of her life three years later.
There is much irony in Piaf proclaiming the lyrics of this song given the many decisions she made throughout her life. Some of these that you might think to be regretful are like abandoning your newborn at 17, addictions to alcohol, morphine, and disastrous marriages. In Daniel Pink’s The Power of Regret he explains, “It’s difficult to picture Piaf on her deathbed celebrating her decisions, especially when many of those decisions sent her to that deathbed decades before her time.”
To think that life can be lived within this mold of “No regrets” better known from the “We’re the Millers” movie as “NO RAGRETS” is unrealistic.
Sure, I thought similarly to Edith Piaf for the longest time. Even Jeff Bezos does too in striving to always live without these sad feelings by minimizing regret in decisions, but the truth is, they will always be there. It’s part of the human experience.
Long story short, regrets are a uniquely human emotion and they cannot be avoided. It would be “psychological self-trickery” to do even if it is healthy sometimes, but in the long-term, it prevents the work from being done for genuine contentment. There are many ways to figure out how to deal with them.
Seven techniques to try that you won’t regret
Start a regret circle. Talk openly with friends about those shoulda couldas to disempower them.
Create a failure resumé. Popularized by Stanford Professor Tina Seelig. More on it here.
Study self-compassion. Beating yourself up for this sorrow will cause more sadness than momentum.
Pair new year’s resolutions with Old Year’s Regrets. Go back and look at what you could’ve done differently to change this year. Or if you’re like me, Old years regrets in July at the halfway mark :)
Mentally subtract positive events. Pulled from the 1946 Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life consider all the decisions and indecisions, mistakes and triumphs, that led to that happy situation. Now take them away. The author Pink can mentally subtract his decision to go to Law School after having met his wife because without that choice the result is misery and gloom of a life without her. It can deepen gratitude and cast regrets in a new light.
Participate in the World Regret Survey. Writing it out can take away the fangs from the regret and create distance.
Adopt a journey mindset. Celebrate wins but don’t relish in them too long. Reflect back and review the steps that got you there. Spend less time celebrating the destination and more time contemplating the journey of what got you there. There’s a saying of you can always Win or Learn but I believe that you can Win AND Learn. Don’t let yourself only learn from mistakes, also notice the momentum and how you started moving and grooving in the first place.
📖 Reading an Article
In 2009, this article by palliative carer Bronnie Ware went viral and then turned into a book. It’s called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying - A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing”. Its intention to give hope for a better world. The bestselling memoir, read by more than a million people worldwide is available in 32 languages.
Here are the five themes across her patients that she found they regretted:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish I had let myself be happier.
This goes to show how rejections can heal over time with space and time while regrets fester more and lead to limitless possibilities of shoulda couldas. I know for my I am mostly saddened by regrets of not being courageous rather than rejection from trying.
🎬 Watching a Video
The Story of the Chinese Farmer by philosopher Alan Watts.
This two-minute video absolutely blew my mind the find time I watched it.
Takeaway: you never know if something is good news or bad news until you allow it to play out over time. It is impossible to ever know what the consequences will be of good fortune or misfortune. Don’t be so quick to judge something and instead keep an open mind to how your life is playing out. Instead of jumping to saying “Yay!” or “…nay”
🔍 Word to define
Regret: Pain of mind on account of something done or experienced in the past, with a wish that it had been different.
A looking back with dissatisfaction or with longing; grief; sorrow; especially, mourning on account of the loss of some joy, advantage, or satisfaction.
Example: I regret the massive error I left on my AP US History exam in 2012 when I wrote an essay about the wrong war. I also regret the lost opportunities for connection from not staying in closer in touch with those lacrosse friends from high school that I am curious about what they are up to today.
Etymology: late 14c, from Old French regreter "long after, bewail, lament someone's death; ask the help of" (Modern French regretter), from re-, intensive prefix, + -greter, which is possibly from Frankish or some other Germanic source (compare Old English grætan "to weep;" Old Norse grata "to weep, groan"), from Proto-Germanic *gretan "weep." "Not found in other Romance languages, and variously explained"
🌟Quote to inspire
“Though we would like to live without regrets, and sometimes proudly insist that we have none, this is not really possible, if only because we are mortal.”
– James Baldwin, 1967
📸 Photo of the Week
Yesterday I ventured an hour's drive to Makua Beach on the West Side of the island. I have officially decided that this is definitely one of the most beautiful beaches on this island, if not the most beautiful.
For a few reasons: the sand is soft but not too fine that it pelts you with the wind. The waves roll in beautifully and enough to go boogie or body surf. The beach bends around next to mountains with a for a lovely scenic stroll. Not many folks know about it or make the trek out here so it’s more private. There’s ever some coral to snorkel and stalk fish but not too much that you worry about stepping on it.
I’m not much of a ‘beacher’.
I know there’s probably a lot of irony in saying that since I live on an island surrounded by beaches. What I mean is that unless there are clouds and/or breeze you will rarely ever see me just laying out. I don't find it the most relaxing to just sit in my puddles of sweat and feel my skin crisp like shrimp in an air fryer.
Going to Makua beach is an exception though. I got play fetch the coral and mermaids in the water, make friendship bracelets and journal four pages of regrets I have across the 27 years of my life. I gave myself permission to not read. It’s nice to bring a book but realize that you don’t feel like reading it.
To the doggos Kevin and Sully for keeping me company this past week in this suburban foreign city that I don’t know if I could live in longer than a week
I appreciate you reading this!
Never stop learning 😁
PS if you’re interested in listening to more Edith Piaf, I love this scene of Lady Gaga in A Star is Born to La Vie En Rose.
If you’re reading this because someone shared this newsletter with you, welcome! I’d love it if you subscribed:
On the happy halfway point of Rhythm, Rhyme, Repeat poetry course :)
On knowing Michigan like the back of my hand:
On living life without a watch and questioning my reliance on it:
On being perfectly on time in your own life:
On questioning the pressure of running away from comfort: