Ask the right questions: Instead of the quintessential regret-er’s lament, ‘What if…,’ Lickerman suggests asking yourself: How can I find joy in the circumstances that I’m in? Some situations will require you to search a bit harder for that silver lining, and the good won’t always outweigh the bad, but making the effort can be extremely beneficial, even for those mired in great tragedy. Research has shown that even parents who lose a young child are eventually able to recognize ways in which the event has helped them grow—whether by causing their love for their other children to deepen, or by strengthening their resolve to face life’s challenges. The key, according to Lickerman, is waiting to seek out the benefit in a bad situation at the right time. Give yourself time to grieve and adjust to your life’s “new normal” before questing after the good.
Re-connect with yourself: Take time each day to consider your passions. While she was taking care of her husband, Occelli became an avid journal writer. Some of her darker thoughts and experiences will always remain private, but many of her entries became the seeds of future blog posts and chapters in her book. Re-connecting with her true self and discovering what her talents were, even in the midst of dealing with great pain, gave her strength to persevere. “Finding the good in ourselves while we’re living in darkness is a very powerful way to stay connected to the light,” she says. “Uncovering what makes our life fulfilling is the best healer.”
Search for support, not a crutch: One of the faulty assumptions that fuels regret is the idea that our happiness is dependent on outside influences. Relying totally external elements for fulfillment is a recipe for chronic heartache. This includes other people. Occelli says that she eventually sought out support online from a group of women who were taking care of loved ones with similar brain injuries. But such support, while certainly beneficial, was not a cure-all. “No two traumatic brain injuries are the same—we were all dealing with different problems. The greatest asset was being able to stand in the storm together,” she says. Indeed, Lickerman points out that the first step towards lasting happiness begins within. It’s a good idea to reach out to others for support and encouragement, but it’s equally important to cultivate a strong internal self.
The quest to rid yourself of remorse won’t be without its challenges—partly because regret is such a natural, ingrained emotion. Setbacks are inevitable and at times it will appear as though your best years are relegated to faded photo albums and weathered diary pages.
But, keeping alive the hope for a brighter tomorrow can make you a stronger, more compassionate human being.
“It’ll be a challenge, but hold the door open to what is possible,” Ochelli urges. “You don’t have to jump on the Pollyanna band-wagon—just don’t let the spark go out.”