Being able to look back with prolonged regret is strictly human. The antidote is all in how we handle it. Incessantly complaining accomplishes nothing except making everyone around you wish that they could go back and change ever having met you.
As you may expect, my life is full of things I wouldn't do again, as well as things I wish I had done. These are the consequences of never really growing up. My past is always at least a little painful to recall.
For example, should I have fled to Canada 46 years ago instead of letting the draft force me into the military, where I would eventually be transformed into a bag of loose bone chips after a parachute jump gone wrong?
No, because at least I'm still alive. Had I run off to Canada, the Old Man would have chased me down and killed me over the shame I brought on the family name. So, even though parts of me still hurt today, I would join up again.
But there are things in my life for which I would appreciate a magical do-over. I would immediately go back to the times I made my wife cry and not do what I did that caused it.
Wait. That's more than one do-over. I'd need an entire coupon book for that. But what if I had to pick just one do-over? It's a tough choice.
You're lucky if you have only one major regret in your life, something you would take back or do differently that would significantly change where you are today.
Maybe you married the wrong person or went into a business that was doomed to fail or took a major in school that didn't work out, stole something, or got fired from a good job.
One of my friends wishes he hadn't divorced his ex-wife. As crazy as she made him, he still hasn't found anyone in 20 years that he can be with for longer than a couple of months. Sadly, for him, she has.
Another friend wishes he could go back and not mow the yard while drunk. "At least then I'd have all my toes," I've heard him say hundreds of times.
The problem with magical mulligans is that they're a gamble. If you change something, like marrying Ralph instead of Biff, you don't really know how that will work out. What if it ended up being worse?
Note: If you can honestly say there's no possible way it could have been worse, then you have a lot more faith in your ability to not screw things up — again — than I have in myself.
Ultimately, I believe our regrets can be seen as positive experiences. Granted, it would be nice if we hadn't made the mistake in order to learn from it. But we're humans, and that's not going to happen.
If you're happy now, or even if you're just mildly content, consider that both the good and stupid things you did brought you here.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.