I tend to do whatever I feel like.
But then I’m sixty pounds overweight and my health is going down hill. My house could use a good deal of renovation, and even though my yard guys keep my lawn close-clipped, it’s a green carpet of weeds. I feel great relief when I see those shows about hoarders because it makes me feel clean and orderly in comparison. I take a certain pride that I’m not an alcoholic like my parents but I have quite a reading addiction. I wanted to be a writer, and although I can churn out the blog posts, I never write the fiction I constantly create in daydreams.
One of the biggest problems in my life is I’ve been reasonably happy and content – I think drive comes from dissatisfaction. If it wasn’t for the guilt over being unproductive I could cruise to my deathbed with no regrets. Yeah, that’s a pretty big exception though.
A friend of mine recently got some paid-for psychological advice which she shared with me for free. She was told to picture herself dying comfortable, able to think clearly – and then asked to imagine what her regrets about leaving life would be.
Now that can be taken a number of ways. There’s a difference between the fantasies that didn’t come true and the ambitions I gave up because of laziness. Remember that movie about the bucket list – well how many people can die with the aid of a billionaire to finance an expensive life-improvement checklist? I could say my life sucked because I didn’t become a rock star like Bob Dylan but is that fair when I can’t carry a tune and the only song I can remember the words to is “Happy Birthday” and I screw that up half the time.
Studies have shown that success is about 10,000 hours of practice, so should we all be regretful that we didn’t pick something and have applied ourselves diligently for three hours a day for ten years?
Maybe that psychiatrist meant something different. Maybe he meant that people should regret not being nicer, or more generous, or more caring. Many people believe a good life is based on how much you do for others and not what you do for yourself. And to be honest, I’m a very selfish person. I don’t feel too guilty though, I try to be a helpful person in my own way, and I give regularly to a number of charities, but the reality is I have no more talent for providing human comfort then I do music.
I really wish I could have be more generous with my wife Susan, doing more things she likes to do, like going to baseball games or to bars on trivia night. I just can’t though. Baseball is boring, and I don’t like loud bars. And I’m sure she feels bad about not liking the many things I like to do, like watching documentaries on cosmology or sitting around listening to jazz from 1959.
When it comes down to dealing with regret I think we need to be realistic.
I need to picture lying in my nursing home bed and think of things I should have done that I could have done. And since I’m turning 60 in a couple of months, it should be things I could start doing right now. Crying over my first six decades is pointless. In all honesty, I can make a long list of things I wished I had done in those first sixty years and it would come down to a long list of “I wish I hadn’t been too chicken-shit to do X.” But what’s the point of that, I have a timid omega male personality and that’s not going to change.
Sure I can think of a few things to wish for that might have been practical. I wished I started caring for my teeth as a kid instead of waiting until I was in my forties. I suppose I could have given up my favorite foods at 175 pounds instead of 235. And if I had only maintained my exercise levels that I acquired in gym class in junior and senior high I could have been the person I always fantasized being. Ha-ha.
See, that’s the thing about thinking about our dying regrets – it’s easy to make bucket lists, but it’s hard to judge who we really are.
I’ve known I should lose my extra pounds ever since I gained them. I’ve always regretted them. I’ve quit eating all my fun foods decades ago. Other than forcing myself to live with constant craving, I don’t know what else to do. And the same is true of having a beautifully decorated house and spiffy all grass lawn – I’d have to have a personality change.
I could write on my bucket list that life would have been great if I could have had sex with Catherine Zeta Jones or spent a year living in Paris writing a brilliant unforgettable novel. But should I really downgrade my life on Earth because I didn’t?
At work people laugh at me because I all too often make references to things I read in books. They say I shouldn’t read so much. But, hey, I’m a bookworm. That’s like telling a giraffe that he’d have a better life without that long neck. Hell, when it comes down to it, I’m going to regret not reading more books, or listening to more music, or watching more documentaries, or all the other things I really love doing.
When I’m old and dying I’m going to regret losing my health and dying because I’ll have to stop doing what I’ve been doing my whole life, which is being me.
JWH – 8/7/11