Living without regrets

Summer finally ended for me a couple weeks ago. We winterized our lake cottage, shut everything inside, played one last round of golf with our northern friends, and said good-bye (for now) to our group of best friends for nearly 40 years. It was a glorious summer!

Looking back on the summer, our list of fun activities was endless… concerts, kayaking, fishing, family times, biking, ice cream (multiple times, I might add), board games, great food, quiet times on the deck, and wonderful times creating memories. Our summer was full, enjoyable, and lived without regrets.

There were some not-so-great times, as well. We said final good-byes to two wonderful friends… one passing with time to properly show his love to family and friends… one passing suddenly in the night. Both were wonderful individuals that loved their families, loved God, and lived full and fulfilling lives. Did they live their lives without regrets? I do know that each left a lasting impact on the lives they touched. Knowing them was a true gift to me!

So many individuals I know seem to be burdened with regrets. They look back on events of their lives with a “coulda, shoulda” attitude. They are so weighed down by these regrets that they fail to experience the joy of today or the hope of tomorrow. Yes, when given a chance, most of us would probably make a few different decisions in life but moving past them is important for our lives today.

How can we live today with no regrets? What is the secret to contentment now? The philosopher in me has pondered this for some time now and I would like to offer 6 suggestions that can help any of us live our lives with fewer regrets. See if you agree:

  1. Recognize that each past event is like a jigsaw piece in the masterpiece of our lives – I like to think of my life as a giant jigsaw puzzle that is shaped and built over the entirety of my life. It began back in my childhood playing baseball in my backyard with 15 friends in a small town. Other pieces were added as I grew, went to school, and began a family. Each event, good or bad, represents a piece of the puzzle that will someday be complete. I didn’t always understand why certain things happened, but, looking back, I can now see how I wouldn’t be me without them. Some of those pieces were difficult or resulted from my bad decisions. But they still fit in the puzzle. The puzzle will be complete someday and it will be clear why things happened as they did. Many pieces are already formed and in place, so nothing I do today can change them… nor should I linger on them. Don’t regret the past, learn from it… savor the memories… let the past make you a better person today.
  2. Get out and do things today… even if they involve risks – Studies have been conducted in which individuals on their deathbed are asked what regrets they had in life. Nearly everyone listed things they DIDN’T do rather than things they DID do as regrets. Let’s learn from that! What is it that you’ve always wanted to do that you have yet to try? Are you waiting for every detail to fall into place before you feel confident to decide? If we all waited until our confidence was 100%, we’d never try anything new. I frequently talk to others about the best time to retire. I am a strong advocate for individuals to retire the very first day they are financially able. Time continues to march along and the window of opportunity to enjoy our retired life is often limited by health or other uncontrollable factors. Do something! Don’t look back and regret it.
  3. Realize that joy and contentment are, to a significant extent, choices that we make… we control them – I often hear individuals talk about how joy and contentment will come into their lives in the future… when their children finish college or when their finances are better or when work gets better or when they become a partner or whatever. Someone once said, “A good day is defined, not by what happens during the day, but by how you react to those things that occur.” By the same token, joy and contentment are what currently resides inside us. We have already decided if we are living our life with joy or whether we are just trying to survive the day. Joy is a choice. The day we DECIDE that we will live and share a life of joy, regardless of what comes our way, is the day that we become more content in what we have and what we do.
  4. Savor today… tomorrow is not promised – She had a nice day with her husband. They were looking forward to an upcoming trip and had already started planning their winter in Florida. Tomorrow promised to be a enjoyable day… However, tomorrow never came for my friend this past July. Life is fragile. Despite our best plans, we cannot control our lives beyond this moment. Even though we know this intellectually, we still busy our days making plans, keeping our calendar current, and assuming that our time here will play out as we have imagined. When we begin living our lives as if today is our last day on earth, we start to see just how unimportant today’s worries really are. Ask yourself this question, “Will my biggest problem or worry today matter to anyone a year from now?” Stop assuming that your time is unlimited…. Stop worrying about the minor details of life…. Start savoring the joys of your life more.
  5. Make your life a gift to others – Life is a gift. We are the recipients of this gift. But we are a gift to others. How many times a day do you think of someone else in your life? I often think of my Dad and Mom drinking coffee in the mornings when I have my own. I think of my grandchildren in school. I wonder what my friends are doing during the day. I often remember many others in my life no longer with us. Others in our lives are doing the same thing! I think we would all be amazed at how many people in our lives think of us every day! Our life is a gift to others. We need to live our lives in a way that will enhance that gift. I want my grandchildren to have fond memories of me. That is why I try to be a positive influence in their lives. Consider the fact that you are on the hearts and minds of many others every day. Make those thoughts and memories positive; bring a smile to their faces when they think of you.
  6. Live your life with hope for your future – Too many people regret their past to the point that they fail to plan for the future. I’m not really talking about the short-term future here, but their eternal future. When you have peace with God, you attain an entirely different perspective on regrets of the past because you have been forgiven. God sent Jesus into the world to mend the broken relationship we have with Him because of sin. When we accept Jesus as our Lord, our past is forgiven, our present is enhanced, and our future is certain. If you wonder more about what this looks like, you can learn more here (What is your hope?).

I read an obituary this week for an individual that died at the age of 90-something. One of the comments read, “… She lived her life with very few regrets…” That’s what I plan to say at the end of my life. How about you?

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