Regret is one of the more interesting emotions. Assuming that is what it is, an emotion.
I find that regret isn't like happiness, sadness, anger, love, or any of the other emotions with an obvious feeling component.
Regret is more subtle.
It's like a raw ingredient for other emotions such as sadness or anxiety. Cooked in a certain way, regret can turn into an unpleasant emotional stew, though by itself regret often is rather cerebral.
The foundation of regret is feeling that I should have done something differently, even though at the time I did that thing, it seemed like the right thing to do.
That's a complex sentence.
I'm pretty sure only humans feel regret. Other animals probably lack the ability to mentally time travel that regret requires.
If I simply did something that turned out badly, I'd just be disappointed.
Like when I played competitive club tennis. I'd know that I lost the match because of too many double-faults when I was serving. OK, you can't win them all. No big deal.
But adding in the time travel of regret changes my disappointment into something more disturbing
Brian, you fool, if you hadn't double-faulted at game point when it was 5-5 in the second set, you would have won the match.
Now I've both gone back in time to remember that screw-up, and also gone forward in time to an alternative reality where my double faults didn't exist, and maybe even turn into aces.
My regret is that I'm stuck with what actually happened, instead of the imagined better happening if I hadn't done what I did -- double-fault too much.
Of course, there's no guarantee that I would have won the match even with zero double faults.
My opponent might have won regardless. So it's difficult to see the positive side of regret. I can learn from my mistakes without feeling that if I hadn't made them, everything would have turned out fine.
I don't know that.
And even if somehow I could know that, I didn't know at the time I was making a mistake. If I had, I wouldn't have done what I did, because who likes mistakes?
So regret rears its ugly head when I envision myself in the present doing what I didn't actually do in the past, even though back then I had no idea I should have been doing something differently.
Laying out the logic (or illogic) of regret in this way makes it seem like a crazy way for my mind to act.
Which is why I'm writing a blog post about regret. I know that I don't like the sensation of regret, but it's been difficult for me to figure out how to stop feeling regretful.
Regret is kind of like pressing on a sore spot. I realize that this isn't a wise thing to do, but the painful sensation has a certain pleasure to it.
What I just said doesn't make a lot of sense, even to me, though it seems true.
Rather than trying to explain how something painful can be pleasurable, I'll head off in a different direction for my final paragraphs.
I was baptized as a Catholic.
For a few years in elementary school my mother had me go to a lunchtime catechism with black clad nuns while my Protestant schoolmates got to frolic in the playground.
I made it as far as first communion before flaming out on confirmation. Going to confession was, I believe, a requirement for the first communion.
Being in first or second grade, I didn't have much to confess. I recall the priest asking, "Have you been going to mass every Sunday?" No, I told him. Ah... a sin!
"Say three Our Father's and two Hail Mary's," I was told, the exact number being lost to my memory.
I did just that, in what, in retrospect, was a form of regret. I wasn't able to take myself to Sunday Mass, so there was no way I could have done anything different than what my mother had me do.
Yet I still had to confess to a failing even though prior to confession I had no idea that I'd done something wrong.
I can't say that repeating the prayers was pleasurable. However, I can see how confession could become a way of coping with regret.
The confessor tells the priest something that, in retrospect, wasn't a good thing to do.
Ordinarily regret would ensue, but since the priest forgives the sin in exchange for, in my case, a few prayers, the pain of regret is lessened or eliminated by the pleasure of scratching the sore of sin through confession.
Maybe writing this blog post is something vaguely similar -- a way to come to grips with the nature of regret by delving into it more deeply than I've ever done before.