In a snappy and thought-provoking article in the New Republic, Judith Shulevitz, the magazine's science editor, points to the now familiar parade of politicians, business figures, and celebrities making public statements of regret for their wrong-doings. But she points out that this is usually an evasion of the truth we want to hear:

"Regret is what we feel when we realize we have hurt ourselves – damaged our careers, tarnished our reputations, limited our options. Regret is not remorse, which is what we feel when we've hurt others … It's remorse that we want from our public figures after they misbehave, and remorse that they'll almost never admit to."

In her further probe of this subject, the author contends that Americans regret more because we have more choices than we used to. Often this luxury can lead to the morass of an endless barrage of second thoughts and "if onlys." Shulevitz believes that regrets sting so much because they reflect badly on the cult of competence. Equally disconcerting is that most of us do not have the time to make hard decisions and to attain all the information we need. As a result, we get and regret our inability to act decisively and efficiently. A final discouraging dimension of regret is that we often underplay our good choices and obsess over the dumb choices we have made.

All of these examples offer proof that "Regret Is the Perfect Emotion for Our Self-Absorbed Times" as Judith Shulevitz states in the title of her article.

A report from Psychology Today offers more helpful slants on regret. Melanie Greenberg defines regret as "a negative cognitive/emotional state that involves blaming ourselves for a bad outcome, feeling a sense of loss or sorrow at what might have been or wishing we could undo a previous choice that we made." She provides a succinct overview of:

  • the ways in which men and women differ in the things they regret
  • why U.S. citizens experience more regret than people in other cultures
  • whether or not there is any value in regret
  • the power of regret in advertisements
  • what we can do to cope with regret

In our own article, Reframing Regrets, we note that in some quarters, regret is seen as a beneficial emotion because it leads to self-inspection and personal growth. We write about five spiritual insights and practices that turn regrets into positive tools.

  • Follow the Tibetan Buddhist way of turning things around.
  • Investigate positive memories of choices you have made.
  • Bless your regrets.
  • Be thankful for all that has happened to you.
  • Adopt the mantra: "To regret is to live afresh."
We also encourage you to ponder quotations on regret in our Quotes Database.

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