The saddest words in the English
language. If only.
If only I’d known what I know now, if only I had done this or that, if only…
Regret comes in all shapes and sizes. And time passes and heals wounds, and, in the end, regret is the only thing that ties us to our past. Or to a better version of it.
That’s the thing about being human. You don’t only dream of a better future, but you also work really hard to imagine a better past. A different past. One that would provide all kinds of alternate outcomes and new meanings to who and where you are right now.
We change. The world changes around us. The people in our lives change as well. Nothing really stays the same, and that’s why we regret. As a reminder that we used to be different. That our lives used to be different. And we play with this new version of who we are and we pretend that our present self could travel back in time and correct our mistakes.
And we call this regret.
And it hurts.
The awful truth about life is that it goes on. Whether you want it to or not; it just goes on.
But regret keeps us trapped in the past, trapped in this bizarre world that never even existed in the first place. A world of illusions, of impossible dreams, a world that’s never coming back.
In a way, if we beat ourselves up with problems from the past for long enough we end up missing a version of the past that only exists inside our head.
Kierkegaard believed that life can be understood backwards. We analyze the past and we understand life. But, sadly, it can only be lived forwards. Nothing that happened can ever be changed. It can be fixed, but it’s never the same.
And, in the end, the future is much more interesting. We never know what might happen, and that makes it infinitely more fascinating than what already happened.
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