Ten years from now, it won’t really matter what shoes you wore today, how your hair looked, or what brand of clothes you wore. What will matter is how you lived, how you loved, and what you learned along the way.
Deep down you know this already, right?
Yet today, just like the majority of us, you are easily distracted and derailed by the insignificant.
You give too much of your time to meaningless time-wasters.
You step through days, skeptically, with inner resistance.
You take your important relationships for granted.
You get caught up in hurtful drama.
You give in to your doubts.
And the list goes on.
Why do you follow these hurtful patterns of behavior?
Why do you set yourself up for regret when you know better?
Because you’re human, and human beings are imperfect creatures that make misjudgments constantly. We get caught up in our own heads, and literally don’t know our lives to be any better than the few things that aren’t going our way. And as our minds subconsciously dwell on these things, we try to distract ourselves to numb the tension we feel. But by doing so, we also distract ourselves from what matters most.
We scrutinize and dramatize the petty annoyances in our lives until we’re blue in the face, and then we sit back and scratch our heads in bewilderment of how unfulfilling and empty life feels.
But the older we grow, the more focused we tend to become, and the less pointless drama, distraction and busyness we engage in. Life humbles us gradually as we age. We begin to realize just how much nonsense we’ve wasted time on. And we begin to adjust our focus toward what’s truly important.
Are you ready to adjust your focus?
Today, I challenge you to be an old soul—to adjust your focus sooner rather than later . . . to dodge the avoidable regret and stress on the horizon.
There are many approaches, but let’s start by learning from other people’s stories . . .
Stories of Subtle Regret, to Help You Live Well
Over the past decade, via our blog, Getting Back to Happy Course, private coaching, side projects, and live annual conferences (2022 tickets are available now), Angel and I have been blessed by the amazing stories that people around the world have shared with us. And right now, with full permission from the original sources, I want to share powerful snippets from sixteen of these stories with you. These are super short but incredibly focused accounts of life, decision-making, and the subtle regrets that sneak up on us along the way.
There’s definitely something for all of us to learn (or re-learn) here:
- “Today is the 14th day in a row that my 87-year-old nursing home patient’s granddaughter has come to visit him. Two weeks ago, I told her that the only time I see her grandfather smile all week is when she visits him on Saturday afternoons.”
- “In the final decade of his life, my grandfather woke up every single day at 7 A.M., picked a fresh wild flower on his morning walk, and took it to my grandmother. One morning, I decided to go with him to see her. And as he placed the flower on her gravestone, he looked up at me and said, ‘I just wish I had picked her a fresh flower every morning when she was alive. She really would have loved that.’” (note: this is my story, about my grandfather)
- “I recently met a super wealthy and influential businessman at a corporate conference—the man has a net worth of over a hundred million dollars. In conversation, he told me he regretted never making it to his son’s hockey games or his daughter’s dance recitals. It made me smile because my total net worth is probably only as much as this man’s last paycheck, but I’ve made it to everything, and my two children always smile and wave to me in the stands during practice and on game days.”
- “Last night my best friend since childhood was put in the hospital for attempting suicide. She’s always listened to my petty problems and asked me how I was feeling. But I’m sitting here in tears now, and realizing that I rarely ever asked her how she was feeling because she always seemed like she had the perfect life in my eyes.”
- “Earlier today, in the last few hours of her life, she told me her only regret was that she didn’t appreciate every year with the same passion and purpose that she has had in the last two years after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. ‘I’ve accomplished so much recently,’ she said. ‘If I had only known, I would have started sooner.’”
- “Today, after spending the past three years constantly hassling and bickering with the 20-something who lives and parties next door, I found myself crying in his arms and thanking him repeatedly for saving my son’s life.”
- “This morning at a train stop near the hospital, a man and his three young kids got on. The kids were loud and completely out of control, running from one end of the train car to the other. An annoyed passenger sitting next to me looked over at the man and asked, ‘Is there a reason you’re letting your kids go nuts right now?’ The man looked up with tears in his eyes and said, ‘The doc just told me their mother isn’t going to make it. Sorry, I’m just trying to think before we all sit down at home to talk about this.’ And, of course, the annoyed passenger was speechless.”
- “Today my son turned seven, and I turned 23. Yes, I had him on the day I turned 16. Many of the choices I made when I was a teenager were beyond foolish, and I still have my regrets. And even though I know I’ve grown, I sometimes I get worried that I’m bringing my son up wrong—that I’m somehow subconsciously passing my past foolishness on to him. But today I took him to the park to celebrate our birthdays. He played for two hours with a girl who has burn scars that cover most of her neck and face. When my son took a break to eat a snack, he pointed to her and said, ‘She’s really pretty and cool!’ Which left me thinking, ‘I must be doing something right as a mom.’”
- “The ‘biggest nerd’ in my 2004 high school graduation class—a nice, quiet boy who I wasn’t very nice to—is now the heart surgeon who saved my mom’s life after she suffered from a sudden heart attack at 68 last night.”
- “As my grandfather rested in his hospital bed this evening, desperately fighting pancreatic cancer, he squeezed my hand tight and said, ‘Promise me, no matter how good or bad you have it, you will wake up every morning thankful for your life. Because every morning you wake up, someone somewhere else will be desperately fighting for theirs. It’s something so simple and important that I never valued until now.’”
- “I was recently reunited with an old friend after nine years of silence between us. Throughout high school and college, we were best friends. Then just before college graduation we got into a nasty fight over a boy. Terrible, hateful words were exchanged and we never spoke again, until today. And as we hugged each other, and cried, we acknowledged how irrelevant that boy is now.”
- “I am a 27-year-old mom to four beautiful children. Everyone in my family told me I was too young to have kids at 20. And there were admittedly a few regret-filled times in my past when I deeply doubted myself and my decision to be a young mom. But what nobody anticipated, including myself, is that at age 26 I would be diagnosed with a rare fallopian tube infection, requiring a full hysterectomy. Now when people say I look too young to have four kids, I feel incredibly blessed.”
- “Today my daughter firmly confronted me with the fact that my biggest fear, a fear that has undoubtedly held me back from many life experiences, has never come true. And I am turning 76-years-old tomorrow.”
- “This morning one of my regular customers, a really grumpy elderly man who has been eating in our diner every morning for the better part of five years, left me $1,000 in cash for his $7 breakfast. Alongside the cash he left a small note that read, ‘Thank you, Christine. I know I haven’t been the brightest smile in your life, and I know we’ve even exchanged rude remarks a few times over the years, but your smile and generally hospitable service have sincerely given me something to look forward to every morning since my wife passed away. I wanted to say thank you. I’m moving eight hours down the road this afternoon to live with my son and his family. May the rest of your life be magical.’”
- “I sat down with my two daughters, ages six and eight, this afternoon to explain to them that we have to move out of our four-bedroom house and into a two-bedroom apartment for a year or two until I can find another job and build our savings back up. It’s a conversation I’ve been avoiding for over a month, as I’ve struggled with the doubts and regrets of not being able to provide a financially stable household for us. But my daughters just looked at each other after I told them, and then my youngest daughter turned to me and asked, ‘Are we all moving into that apartment together?’ ‘Of course,’ I immediately replied. ‘Oh, so no big deal then,’ she said.”
- “This afternoon I was looking through an old Windows laptop that my dad used seven years ago before he lost his battle with colon cancer. The laptop has been sitting around collecting dust at my mom’s house ever since. In a folder named ‘Video Project’ oddly placed at the root of the C: drive, I found a video file my dad made about a month before he died that my mom and I had never seen before. In the 15-minute video my dad talks about my mom and me, how grateful he is to have had the chance to a be part of our lives, and that he has no regrets at all about anything in his life—that he is totally at peace. He ended by saying, “I know you two will miss me, but please smile for me, because I’ve lived well and I’m OK. Really, I’m OK.”
Let Go & Let Appreciation Fuel Your Next Step
I hope the stories above made you think about how to improve your approach in certain life situations. But, perhaps some of them also reminded you of how you’re falling short. If it’s the latter, I want you to take a deep breath right now. Remember that you don’t have to be defined by the things you did or didn’t do in the past. Don’t let yourself be controlled by regret. Maybe there’s something you could have done differently, or maybe not. Either way, it’s merely something that’s already happened.
Do your best to cleanse your heart and mind.
With focused presence and appreciation.
Just this morning, for example, after coming to terms with a regretful business decision I recently made, and after writing my heart out for an hour, I went for a long jog at the beach . . . sea foam kissing my feet with each step, white sand footprints behind me, and the morning sky bursting with bright colors overhead.
At the end of my jog I turned toward the ocean and took several deep breaths, mostly because the sky, and the Atlantic, had momentarily taken my breath away.
I stood there on the sand and applauded. Yes, I literally clapped my hands in recognition.
Because this is the only response life truly deserves: a fully present, appreciative applause.
Today, wherever you are, whatever regrets or circumstances you’re dealing with, take a moment to really appreciate this gift we call life, and applaud.
Then do your best to give back to life. Do something—anything—to show your gratitude for this imperfect miracle you’ve been given. Be kind to a stranger, create something others can use, be loving to your family . . . make a small difference in your own unique way.
And see how it feels.
Before you go, let me ask you a quick question:
- Which story (or point) above resonates the most with you right now?
And how might reminding yourself of it, daily, change your life?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Also, our next annual Think Better, Live Better conference is taking place May 28-29, 2022 in Orlando. Eight discounted early bird tickets are still available today (while they last).
M&A, I’ll keep it short, but I wanted to say thanks. I’ve been reading your emails and blog posts for over a year now but I’ve never left a comment. This post spoke to me—the stories hit hard, and also your commentary and suggestions about focusing on what matters and letting go of old regrets.
PS. I recently bought two early bird tickets to your Think Better conference in Orlando. Looking forward to meeting you two and other likeminded souls in May, in warmer Florida weather. 🙂
Marc Chernoff says
Thanks for the kindness. Angel and I are looking forward to meeting you in Orlando.
Dale Hosh says
Such thought-provoking stories! These remind me of shorter versions of some of the stories from your 1000 Little Things and 1000 Little Habits books, and perhaps they are. Anyway, I connected most directly with the story about the grandfather placing flowers on his wife’s grave. It such a harsh reminder of our limited time with those we love, and how important it is to actually love them while we have the chance. An important reminder for all of us as we enter a kinda tumultuous time worldwide.
Marc Chernoff says
Thanks for mentioning our book. And thanks for supporting our work. 🙂
James Hopper says
Incredible stories and thoughts on life, Marc and Angel. I’m so glad you emailed out the link to this article today. I especially loved the opening paragraph, so I copied it and printed it out. It’s going to be my new motto—a reminder to focus on what matters. Also, story #16 is how I want to live my life. Obviously I hope to live a long life, but I want to make sure I’m living a full life every day too, so I have no regrets even if it gets cut short. There was a time when I was absolutely on the wrong track, but with your blog and course’s teachings, I’m now on a much better track. I’ve been focusing more on what’s important and letting go of what isn’t.
Thank you. Keep up the great work!
Marc Chernoff says
Keep going, James. You’ve been making excellent progress!
judee doyle says
Thank you, you asked to pick one story that fits or hits my heart hardest! All of them, I felt all of them ‘hit’ my heart. These stories helped me today with a petty thought that had taken over (what should have been a joyful moment). I am so darn thankful for being reminded that life really is wonderful! Now on with my day to live the truth of ‘what is’ … Peace and love to you and your family! judee
I have read your emails and books, and watched your Think Better live conference recordings over the past year. I had a very tough year—personalities at work caused me to question myself and my abilities. Every day I would come home complaining about work, and my supportive husband finally said, quit. Of course I did not have another job (we need 2 incomes–my husband is a teacher), I’m 57 and I did not know what to do. But I gained strength through your words and teachings, and I quit my job last month. I haven’t found a new job, but most importantly, I have regained a sense of myself and my relationship with friends and family. I have no regrets now, and I’m hopeful for the next step—-thank you both.
Marc Chernoff says
Cheers to a new beginning, DG! 🙂
I have been getting your posts delivered via email for over a year and this one hit home. Especially the one about the mom downsizing. I am and have been in this situation. Being in a smaller home where the kids and i are always together is great because when they aren’t home i miss them dearly but i also appreciate the silence. The silence gives me a chance with my thoughts, and prayers. I find this reminds me to be thankful for what i have, especially on the days when my kids might drive ne nuts! I don’t know what i would do without them in my life!
Thank you for this email, it has really made me appreciate my life, no matter how hard it is 🙂
Marc Chernoff says
You are welcome, Kelly. Thanks for the kindness and for sharing a piece of your story with us.
U.K. Resident says
Hi Marc and Angel
I’m far away in the UK so sadly I cannot attend your upcoming conference in Orlando in May, but I truly wish I could. And I’d just like to say thank you so much for sharing your wisdom on a regular basis. Through your words your souls shine and I learn life’s lessons.
I am getting on. A woman in my sixtieth year, outwardly I am successful but inside I carry the open running inflamed scars from a childhood of abuse, abandonment and loss. The void has never been filled, I feel a failure to my two adult children, most days to the point of death.
Your words nourish me from the inside like healing salve for the spirit and I thank you.
Today’s words and examples comforted and strengthened me. The grandfather who encouraged his grandchild to waken up with gratitude every morning changed my attitude. Every day I waken up thinking I’d be better off dead. Not any more. I’ll give his way a try.
Heleen Koekemoer says
May God give you peace and joy and make you see how beautiful you are and be who you were made to be!! The past will not define who you are anymore!!
Marc Chernoff says
Thank you for finding the strength to share a piece of your story here. We are thinking of you. We are with you, 100%. Cheers to giving yourself another chance… and another.
Kirk Mayers says
This morning, I allowed myself to become agitated about a situation I exist in that won’t change today (but can and probably will change in future)
This post and its stories have completely taken the wind out of my sails and has nudged my thoughts in a different direction. While I have food for thought now, I feel calm and settled because I’m going in the right direction. I may not know where I’m going but I know I’m going in the right direction.
Bette Mroz says
As a grandmother of 12 grandchildren, I try to attend the important affairs in their lives. Many times, my “friends” tell me to save my money; I might need it. But I tell them I am making memories that will last much longer than my money long after I am gone. My children and grandchildren will look at the pictures and remember that I was there for them, to celebrate their achievements with them. I hope to die with no regrets and satisfied with the love I gave… and received.
Mushtaq Ahmed says
Yours’ is a wonderful story by itself. Thank you for sharing.
You’re really kind to others to have tidied up this post and teaching others life lessons of happiness and thinking. I feel that I have benefited greatly and holistically as a person, reading the articles and reflecting on the decisions I have made. I am forever grateful for your dedication to this blog. Cheers!
Barbara Matson says
#10- Being thankful every morning for life-because someone somewhere is fighting for theirs. I thank God every morning first thing when I wake up. I’ve fought the fight of many others and am a survivor. I fully understand that there are no gaurantees of another day, month, or year. I am thankful for mundane-normal days-because they are days I might not have had. I tend not to take any portion of time for granted- because there are no guarantees.
Your lessons and stories always provoke in me a reaction of good, to make better decisions , to question myself every now and then, we all need to maybe take a step back and look at things differently, today’s message made me think about how we fall out with people over very simple pathetic things, i certainly need to watch my approach, the lady who said she is making memories now and i thought that’s so good, often inheritances are spent quickly with no thought to the person who left it, where as if you spend it with them while you are alive, its a win win situation, i will certainly adopt that one.
thanks Marc and Angel
with love Jacqueline xxx
The point on the 23 yr old mum and her 7 year old son. The fact that he saw beauty where most wouldn’t has really moved me.
#7 man with wild kids on the bus, #14 grumpy customer resonate with me. You never know what is going on in someone else’s life. How they act is likely not about you. Not always easy to remember this!
David W. Stombaugh says
I liked them all. Great stories and reminders
They each had something to say and a had a lesson to be learned.
Thank you for posting them.
Thank you for no. 7. I wanted to know what the annoyed passenger did.
No. 1 is me. I literally said to my husband yesterday how bored and frustrated I’d felt as a stay at home mum for all these years, however I am really proud that I went to 99% of all our daughter’s primary school events. All her class mates know me and feel confident to chat to me. They have all just gone up to secondary school and to my delight, when they see me dropping my daughter off at the bus stop or fetching her, they wave and smile. At primary school they didn’t take much notice of me but now they see me as a familiar face and look really excited to see me. It makes me so happy to know I made a difference to some children in life.
I want to thank you again for all your inspiration. You may not be fully aware of how much and how many you’ve helped but I hope someday you will. I’ve been able to come to terms with a lot of my demons, I’ve grown and hopefully became a little wiser and definitely a lot more content.
Thanks again for the great work you are doing. Keep it up!
Randall Law says
Number 10. WOW
I lost my mother early to cancer in 1989. I lost my father last year on January 4. I was the last of my siblings who moved out of the house as I got married. A couple of months after that his BP went very high. That was the beginning. Some years later he suffered a paralytic stroke when I was visiting him over a weekend with my 3 year old child. My husband, me, and my son, all three, moved in with him as no one can replace family in taking care of an ailing parent. The 10 years we were all together are the most wonderful years of lives. There was so much he had to give to us. Even now, we often place ourselves in his shoes and think how he would have handled a particular difficult situation that we might be facing. Parents are the most priceless gifts we can ever have. I feel stronger knowing that he is still with us and that he is OK.
So grateful to you for letting us know to be grateful in life and stop taking it for granted. The introspection is needed every time but we as humans tend to focus on regrets and mistakes rather than appreciating what we have. Beautiful stories.. A heartfelt THANK YOU 🙂
30 years I’ve been my own worst enemy.. I’m what they call a functioning addict…I want..no, I need to stop..my greatest wish is to be able to wake up normal….But thru all of this…I am totally appreciative of life and what life has given me…
This has been my desire since the birth of my son. I’ve lived so rough childhood and then I entered a marriage that only helped to push me further down and Rob me of hope….hope for love, hope for acceptance, hope for peace. then was forced to make change because I want better for my son. He has been the breath of fresh air that came in just before I decided I would take my last…breath. I’ve been reading your blogs for some reason while…taking small steps and I must say thank you because for the first time in a very long time i have a seed of hope. I’ve learned to mother myself and father myself and love myself and acceptance myself and I do believe it has lead me to be a better mom and overall person. I am all the way in barbados but I hope to take your online course in the future when I clean up my finances (something else that went downhill with marriage). Have a wonderful day and I pray God’s blessings over you in the days ahead!
The story that resonated most to me was the moving to a two bedroom apartment. Kids don’t care where you are they just need their parents to be with them. I have been thinking of downsizing because of my budget and I loved that story the most….
Thank you M&A,
I am going through the pangs of separation from my husband of 23 years. Today was filled with anger recollecting how he hurt me for all that I had done for him.
The stories you have shared made me think again. I let go off all anger and felt touched by those moments in life you have shared. It has given me strength and hope.
Patsy Phillips says
What a beautiful read! #4 is my favorite right now, but they all have touched my heart for various reasons.
For a few years now, we have suffered through a devastating time in our family. And, as if my life/our lives haven’t been bad enough, now I must watch my son go through a shocking divorce. Throughout this tragedy, his youngest adult children do not communicate with him and, if they do so it is very brief. He has never given up on them! He loves them so much!
#4 touched my heart. WHY? MY SON HAS NEVER STOPPED ASKING THEM, “HOW ARE YOU DOING?! NOT ONCE IN OVER TWO YEARS HAVE THEY ASKED THEIR FATHER, “HOW ARE YOU DOING?!” HE IS AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN A WONDERFUL MAN AND FATHER! NOT PERFECT, BUT HE GAVE HIS BEST AT ALL TIMES!
LASTLY, A QUOTE I HAVE LEARNED TO LOVE: ” YESTERDAY IS THE (PAST), TOMORROW THE (FUTURE), TODAY IS A “GIFT!”, THAT IS WHY THEY CALL IT (PRESENT)!”.
The story that really resonates with me right now is number 11.
We used to have a good relationship when we were younger but right now, I’m trying to work things out with my sister who I haven’t seen or talked to for a long time.
I’m not sure exactly what happened , but I have a feeling it is something that is very insignificant. I haven’t worked things out with her yet, but I have a feeling after I do, we will be close again.
Holly N Bredemann says
The story that most resonated was the one about the man bringing a flower to his wife. Many people take each other for granted until we lose each other. I am a 42 year old, single mother. My children are grown. I had them young, just like one of the women in the stories. I also had to have a hysterectomy at a young age, 25. I have no regrets about having them. For the past 22 years, they have been my life. However, this year I chose to follow my dreams. I sold my belongings aside from clothing and moved to China. I will be traveling the globe, working, teaching, living, enjoying and doing my best to find happiness in myself and my life, outside of being a mom.
Hendy August says
Beautiful post, Marc :>
Love how some of the stories related to most of us…
We can learn from other’s experience, and hope we can all reach our own happiness in our own way…
We’re all blessed… we just have to see it with the right perspective… :>
P.S. Not a really good english, I know… 😛
Love reading your post… still…
Jessica Johnson says
I started visiting your site about 10 or so years ago when my sister told em how wonderful it was. I am a recovering alcoholic so I look for inspiration in any way I can. I found ALOT of it here. Since I started reading your blogs I have relapsed several times. Some near death. Hospitals, treatment etc. I am now sober once again going on almost 3 years. All of these stories touched my heart. The one mentioning fear hits hard for me. I am 34 and have wanted to go to school for my Bachelors of Science in Addiction and Psychology for 7 years now. But…with my relapses in the past I kept having to put it off. Noe sober for a length of time I find myself making excuses. Money, time and I have two children so these things make it very hard. I dislike feeling inadequate and am scared of the unknown. Also have high anxiety at times. The commentary put me tears. I am a certified nursing assistant today and this is not what I consider a career nor am I able to get by on my salary. My heart lies in the psychology aspect of things! I have been there …over and over and I want to help others who fear there is no way out. Its what I am meant to do!!! No doubts…but again…there is so much fear and anxiety on going to school…money and time. Now that I am rambling I guess I just want to say that what you 2 have built here is beautiful. I thank you.
#10 resonated with me. I woke up yesterday morning and had a dream of a friend I have not seen in nearly 20 years, but have reached out in the last year because I dreamt of her then too. I texted her let her know I dreamt about her and hope she was doing well. She texted me back and low and behold she had a dream about me too. We both said we will journal on it. #10 reminded me of a friend who befriended me in a new HS after my parents split up. We shared a lot and as life (as they say) got in the way we fell out of touch. Last year before her birthday I had a dream of her. I said a pray for her and it continued to tug my heart. I never did call afraid she had a new number making excuses. I heard maybe a month after I had the dream she passed away. So young and beautiful. When I visited her grave her husband had told me she was mentioning me in her sleep and had been in the hospital off and on. She did have the same phone number. I was heartbroken. So, to this day when I dream of people I know I reach out to them to check on them. Thank you so much for the reminder of thankfulness. I loved all the stories and the comments!! I could not sleep; what a beautiful read and to know I’m not alone.
Charlie Seymour Jr says
How can I select one diamond out of a field sprinkled with thoughtful stories. These touched my soul and brought tears to my eyes. Even in this time of Putin decimating Ukraine, there are things I can do better in my own life and relationships. Thank you for sharing these. Charlie
I used to read your emails religiously and more often than not shared them. Then life got busier and I stopped. Regret is such a gnarly beast. My sister and I had an on and off relationship, mostly off. We would go years not speaking do to my stubbornness.
My sister would do things and although I knew on a level she had some mental issues I finally reached my end after an issue at my fathers funeral. We eventually started talking again after 3 years.
She NEVER EVER stopped trying to make amends with me our entire lives but I was just done. A month ago my sister died of Covid. She died loving me and thankfully we were in a better spot. But she tried for months to visit and I found reason after reason why it wasn’t a good time.
She was my biggest cheerleader and supporter even when I didn’t deserve it? I hope others don’t make the same mistakes I did. I loved her but wasted years making her think I didn’t. I fooled myself into thinking I would be ok with how things were if I lost her.
I am not ok, I will never be ok, I am gutted and broken. But I’m going to honor the wonderful person she was deep down inside.
Thank you for your wonderful insights
Mari Nicolas says
WOW. I somehow came across your website this morning while I was reading FB posts from my friends. This blog about regrets was truly inspiring. I’ve been fortunate to have few regrets in my life because I’ve had incredible mentors. At times, I wish I had been more career-driven or financially ambitious but after having friends abruptly die, never felt the need to be materially goal oriented. These wonderful anecdotes reinforce my desire to live in the NOW and be content. Thank you so much!