Thoreau on regret

Henry David Thoreau offered this advice on regret:

“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”

Thoreau believed in regret. He believed in tending and cherishing it. He believed in making use of it.

I agree with Thoreau. Although it’s quite popular to say that we should live without regrets - let the past be the past - I have always found my regrets as fuel for my fire.

It’s not unlike the fuel I find in those who have doubted me, maligned me, turned their back on me, let me down, and attempted to tear me down. When I am feeling less than energetic or lacking in motivation, all I need to do is think about the soulless cowards who tried to destroy my career or the guidance counselors who never spoke to me about college or the person who turned her back on me over something trivial and out of my control, and I’m suddenly filled with the desire to achieve and excel and crush the world again.

The same holds true for regret. Whether it’s regret caused by a failure of my own or is the result of something out of my control, I often remind myself of what it feels like to miss an opportunity, fail to achieve a goal, or fall short of making a dream come true.

That simple, painful reminder fuels my fire and sends me charging into the day.

Thankfully, I don’t have too many regrets. With Elysha, Clara, and Charlie, how could I? But I have a few - and a couple big ones - and I allow them to inform my current and future decisions. I allow their sting to incentivize me from never feeling regret again.

Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living. I’m not sure if I would take it quite that far, but I would argue that the unexamined life is the deliberate and wasteful disregard of regret. It’s a missed opportunity to learn from your mistakes and use them as fuel for the next struggle.

I agree with Thoreau. Make the most of your regrets. To regret deeply is to live afresh.