How to Live a Happy Life Full of Regrets

Stop harking so much on the past. What's done is done.

We all have dreams.  Some of us want to be a ballerina, and some of us want to live in Italy, and some of us want to have many children. We all have dreams.

Often those dreams do not come true.  So one of the chapters in my book is about how you live with those regrets.  90 percent of people say that they have at least some regrets, which is not surprising because all of your dreams are not going to come true.  So how do you cope with having regrets?  How can you be happy and have regrets at the same time?

And one of the answers to that question comes from research by one of my friends. Her name is Laura King, and she studies how people cope with regret.  What she finds is that the very process of accepting your regrets, the might-have-beens, confronting them and moving past them can actually accelerate maturity, can make you a more mature person, can make you grow as a person.

It can make you a happier person. King studies people who've had various adversities.  One group of people she studies, for example, are mothers of children with Down's syndrome.  So these are kids who will never have a normal life.  And so these mothers originally have just huge challenges.  Most of the mothers that Laura King has studied somehow find a way to accept the new situation that they're in and of course they really love their children and get a lot of joy from them.

But the lesson of that research is that we can all learn to accept our regrets, the dreams that have not come true, and move on.  Move on and focus on the future.  Stop harking so much on the past. What's done is done.  You'll never be an Olympic swimmer.  You're too old; that's it.

So think about what are your next goals.  What should you focus on in the future?  But meanwhile, you can actually grow as a person when you confront your regrets. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Is this why time speeds up as we age?

We take fewer mental pictures per second.

(MPH Photos/giphy/yShutterstock/Big Think)
Mind & Brain
  • Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
  • In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
  • The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
Keep reading Show less

Trauma in childhood leads to empathy in adulthood

It's not just a case of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Mind & Brain

  • A new study suggests children who endure trauma grow up to be adults with more empathy than others.
  • The effect is not universal, however. Only one kind of empathy was greatly effected.
  • The study may lead to further investigations into how people cope with trauma and lead to new ways to help victims bounce back.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.