How to Live a Happy Life Full of Regrets
Stop harking so much on the past. What's done is done.
Sonja Lyubomirsky is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. Her research – on the possibility of lastingly increasing happiness– has been honored with a Science of Generosity grant, a John Templeton Foundation grant, a Templeton Positive Psychology Prize, and a grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health. Lyubomirsky’s 2008 book The How of Happiness has been translated into nineteen languages.
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.
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