Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda Monster

Few things scared me as a kid. I never believed in the boogeyman growing up. Now, as an adult, one of my biggest fears haunts me.

Regret.

I compulsively worry over the choices I made. Why did I take the CSET and decide not to teach high school English? Why did I quit running after I gave birth to my first child? It’s hard to stop obsessing about the past.

I can’t help but long for the roads not taken.

I felt this more profoundly with the deaths of a dear aunt and uncle. Two people who knew how to really live. They had three kids, an impacted social calendar, and love, so much love. When my uncle died of prostate cancer, my aunt died shortly thereafter from a broken heart.

They lived without regret. I aim to do the same.

Whenever I examine my own life, which is often, my thoughts turn towards the lost virtue of happiness. The biggest challenge is trying to stay content no matter what the circumstance. I want to embrace the paradox of happiness, but it’s not easy. In pursuit of living regret free, I’m trying to recover pieces of me. Parts that have been sucked out by technological gadgetry and too many designer lattes.

A life without regret doesn’t come naturally. Then, it’s with good reason that we take an internal inventory and ask ourselves questions like–Does regret get in the way of happiness? How do you define true happiness? I won’t get into the classical meaning of happiness laid out by Plato or Aristotle, but here are a few questions to consider:

  1. What’s something you know about happiness that you didn’t know when you were a teenager?
  2. Is there a hobby that makes you particularly happy?
  3. Have you been surprised by something you didn’t initially expect?

For me, the answer to question #1 is love. The power of unconditional love is life changing. At eighteen, I was certain happiness meant an advanced degree, six-figure salary, and a beautiful home. I’ve since learned that a life full of material abundance can be empty. Even lonely.

The answer to question #2 is writing. Putting pen to paper satisfies the deepest parts of my heart. Writing is my refuge. I won’t list all the reasons for turning to this outlet, just know it’s saved me from lots of grief.

As for question #3, can I give you a rain check? I can’t narrow it down to one thing.  Meanwhile I’m going to work on getting the regret monster out of my head.

Do you struggle with the Shoulda Monster?

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66 thoughts on “Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda Monster

    1. Kerry, I do the same thing–replay things I shoulda said or done. A huge waste of time, right? We should turn to dancing to drown out the noise.

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  1. I too let regrets torment me! I still haven’t figured out what makes me happy. I am happy seeing my kids and husband happy; but of course when they aren’t happy then neither am I. I must say when I’m pregnant I’m overall happy…I don’t know! Great mind boggling questions Anka!

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    1. I’m happy when my family is happy, too! The problem is trying to get my mind to quiet down. It’s weird because during the day none of these thoughts bombard my head. I’m going about my business, enjoying my second trimester . . . then, boom! The thoughts start flooding right before bedtime.

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  2. I’ve written a couple times about my paralyzing tendencies toward regrets – but not as much about happiness. I’m saving that one. I’m always sure that happiness is right around the corner, if I can only… and then… Not a great recipe for success.

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    1. I remember your post on regret. As for happiness, it seems to be such an elusive subject. Just when you think you’ve discovered the meaning of happiness, the definition changes on you.

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    1. I wish I had an off switch to the reels of my past. That’s not to say I don’t like where I’m at in life. It’s just that I can’t help but wonder about the “What if’s” . . . All the missed opportunities.

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  3. No, not really.

    1. What’s something you know about happiness that you didn’t know when you were a teenager?
    I know that happiness is like the tide it comes and goes in a rush and swell. The trick is getting into the right sea. The right sea for me is the sea of contentment. I learnt how tough life can be and how very precious the good times are.
    2. Is there a hobby that makes you particularly happy? Being creative and travel.

    3. Have you ever been surprised by something that made you happy? Something you didn’t initially expect? No, not really. The only surprising one for me is I get a thrill from making money and the enjoyment of spending it on loved ones. Not as a be all and end all, but as a little side line.

    If I suffer from anything its thinking I should be doing more/different than I am , I have spent time agonising that I am not doing enough with my life, that I should train to be a social worker or midwife or something like that, something meaningful and helpful.
    maybe I will one day but for now, I am mainly rasing two people.

    A couple of sayings that help me are as follows:
    If you are happy keeping doing what you are doing, if you are not change something.
    and
    Do what you want to do not what you think you should.

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    1. I loved what you said, “For now, I am mainly raising two people.” That sums up my current stage so beautifully! And yes, that really does seem to be enough. There are certainly seasons for everything. Our babies won’t be in diapers FOREVER. Also, the sea of contentment analogy was very fitting. It pulled on my heartstrings.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on such a delicate matter! 🙂

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  4. Here are my answers:
    #1- That I was responsible for my own happiness, that it is a choice.
    #2- Reading, writing, cooking, hiking, talking
    #3- I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoy blogging- not just writing myself but the whole “community” aspect of it. I initially had very mixed feelings about blogging and didn’t think I’d like it as much as I do.

    Great post! I don’t dwell much on regret- I’m content with the choices I’ve made in my life; but if I do struggle with regret it’s over mistakes I’ve made as a parent. It’s tough to know that you can’t go back and do anything over…

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    1. Blogging has made me surprisingly happy, too! As for happiness being a choice, I couldn’t agree more. We are truly responsible for our own joy, or lack thereof. Fortunately, the regrets I battle in my mind are fleeting. There’s no time to dwell on these things when you have kids to chase around.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Miriam. Have a great weekend!

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  5. Yes Miriam has it for me with ‘I was responsible for my own happiness’. It is definitely a choice.

    Things that make me happy include anything that stills my mind. So running, writing. But smaller things too like standing still in front of a breathtaking view, eating something amazing, a beautiful colour, my children making me crack up laughing.

    I was surprised by both the running and the writing but it’s lovely to now know those things can make me smile almost every time I do them.

    I am not so much plagued by regret as by wishes that I’d been braver and tried more things earlier. I’m filled with a sense of ‘Imustgoanddoeverythingrightnowbeforetimerunsout!’ a the moment and nearly wrote about that exact thing a few days ago!

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    1. We must be kindred spirits. Anything that stills my mind makes me happy, too! Even being stuck on the road alone gives me time to recharge. As for kids and laughter, there really is no better medicine. No one gets me laughing harder than my four year old son. He is filled with ample fodder!

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  6. Very thought provoking! Thank you for getting me to think!

    Something I didn’t know about happiness as a teenager: that it is different from joy. Happiness comes and goes, but joy (and I’ve found the only lasting joy being that which comes from trusting Jesus and loving him with my life) lasts always. Even in my deepest valleys of life, there can be joy.

    Hobbies–writing, reading, walking/running/endorphins, talking with someone who understands me!

    I have been happily surprised by the blessings that have come from blogging. It is a rich community, and I love the range of ideas and emotions I get to read every day!

    As for regrets…most of mine come from having procrastinated about something, or not having appreciated something or someone enough. I try to stay free of any traps of regret, and pray for more wisdom for today if I feel like I regret something about yesterday.

    –Alison

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    1. Alison, what an excellent distinction! Happiness is definitely different from joy. That is my biggest challenge right now–trying to find joy in the midst of sleep deprivation and hectic schedules. But, I know that this, too, will pass.

      Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom. You are such a vessel of love and encouragement. Hope everything is sunny and well in Florida! 🙂

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    1. Thanks for the reminder. That is one of my biggest goals–trying to live in the present! I want to be especially present with my children. They grow so fast.

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    1. What an excellent distinction–wanting others to love you versus you just liking yourself more. It’s funny because I tell my kids to hug themselves and love themselves all the time. Now, if I can only remember to do the same for myself.

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  7. Anka, I could have lots of regrets because my life most certainly has not gone as planned. I love my family, writing too. I feel like I should have been writing much earlier on and wasted a lot of time thinking about things. Surprisingly, something as simple as boot camp has given me a lot of happiness because it makes me feel good physically. Who knew? I wasn’t expecting that. I used to dance, and I miss that one. My biggest regret comes from career choices. That seems to be one that a lot people aren’t keen on. You can always change your path.

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    1. Amy, I remember reading about your boot camp experience. It seems like it really made you feel ‘alive’ again. As for dancing, I can’t imagine the sense of loss you feel. But, at least you can tuck those precious memories away in your heart. And, about the career choices, I’m a firm believer that it’s NEVER too late to pursue your dreams.

      We go through different seasons in life. Time is everything!

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  8. Great post, Anka. It makes me pause and think, but I try not to get the “regret monster” take charge. Of course trying and doing are not the same thing all the time.

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    1. Jiawei, I’m glad to hear that you don’t give a foothold to the ‘regret monster’. I work overtime trying to fight these nagging thoughts. Fortunately, the good in my life continues to supersede the bad. 🙂

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  9. Heard a great quote that made me stop and take notice, “Stop shoulding on yourself!”

    AMEN to that 🙂

    Happiness is fleeting but I’ve learned that I can find it in the quietest moments – a Saturday morning when the house is still and all my loves are snoozing, a cup of coffee in hand and old dog at my feet. I can find it when I’m stirring homemade soup and singing along to Elvis, with the grand kids are happily coloring at the table near me. I can find it when my grown sons call to check on me because my sister just left and they know I’m sad and need them. And writing … blogging … this has been a wonderful outlet and a refuge of creativity — not to mention all the lovely people I’ve “met.”

    Great post!
    MJ

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    1. MJ, thanks for sharing the quote! I need to stamp it on my forehead. 😉
      As for finding happiness, I think it’s safe to assume you’ve discovered the simple pleasures in life. Your legacy as a woman, wife, mother, and grandmother seems to be heaping over with love. What more could a person ask for?
      Have a wonderful weekend!

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  10. My 1 and 2 are much like yours. Number 3 is a hard one. Not sure I have many surprises or many regrets, but I do feel the need to take advantage of the time and happiness that I have now, live life to the fullest sort of thing.

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    1. Karen, I completely agree with taking advantage of the present, living life to the fullest. The regrets that swirl in my head are temporary. Fortunately, I don’t entertain those thoughts long. Tomorrow always holds a sign of promise.

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  11. One of the things that has happened to me in my 40’s (aside from aches and pains 🙂 ) is that I have really let go of regrets, as I try (and it’s work!) to stay focused on right now. With regard to your thoughts about happiness, I’ve realized over the years the beauty of happiness being found in the simplest of things and how wonderful that can be! Example: as I walked to the bus stop this morning with the kids….they were ahead of me a bit as I took out the recycling….I heard them talking animatedly together and just the SOUND of the chatter (don’t even know what it was about) gave me such a feeling of contentment.

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    1. Barbara, your illustration of ‘happiness’ is such a wonderful example on how to find joy in the little things. My children are also skilled at making my heart SMILE. Without our beautiful babies, life just wouldn’t be the same. Kids really inspire a sense of adventure. 🙂

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    1. Steph, you always present the silver lining in situations! As for the gymnastics thing, you could give yoga a try. I heard the “Downward Dog” pose helps with flexibility. The only problem is that your hips and butt are aiming upward! 😉

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  12. I often wonder these same things about…..YOU!!! You are truly gifted and need to be using your talents! Blogging is definitely a good step forward in the right direction. I didn’t know that you had planned on teaching high school English. You would be great at this along with all of the other career choices I have thrown your way! I really think you shouldn’t give up on your dreams. You are living an important role right now and should definitely embrace it so you don’t have another regret to add to the list but somewhere in future you need to fulfill all of the possibilities that you are capable of!

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    1. Melissa, I wish I could package and sell your optimism. 😉 You are such a ray of sunshine! Thanks for the encouraging words. I couldn’t agree more about mothering being my MOST important role right now. There are seasons for everything.
      Maybe one day you’ll publish your children’s book and I’ll go back for my Master’s degree . . . Deal?

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    1. Happiness is ABSOLUTELY a choice. Just like anything good and fulfilling in life–marriage, exercise, parenting. You have to wake up everyday and choose to really live! 🙂

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  13. Great thought provoking post. When I look back, I see that there would have been many alternative roads to take and even more relationships to handle with better care and greater wisdom. But I have realized that life doesn’t have the reverse gear. One can only move forward and make the best use of the roads ahead. Rather than keep looking back to “what-ifs”, I’m sure you will be able to direct all your energies to living fully now and looking forward with confidence and expectation. You have it all in you 🙂

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    1. I love that line, “life doesn’t have a reverse gear.” You’re so right. I’m constantly looking in my rear view mirror. I need to let the past be the past at last! Thanks for your encouraging words. I’m going to meditate on your admonishment to look forward to what’s up ahead! 🙂

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  14. Sometimes, as much as I hate to admit it… regret moves me to action. So I don’t think i could live without it. But as I’m (gulp) nearing a big birthday, I can’t help but think — what are the things I’ll regret not doing in the next ten years? (Does that make me crazy?)

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    1. It doesn’t make you crazy at all! Sounds like you’re very introspective and don’t want to waste time on the mundane. By the way, I love the line the “regret moves me to action.” That’s my new mantra for the day!

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  15. I only have one real regret, although at the same time it’s not. That is that when I left uni I went straight into getting a job and a mortgage, instead of travelling, exploring and finding myself – I don’t feel that I ever have found myself yet. But, I can’t regret it because it led me directly to my husband and kids.
    There are things I might have done differently – been more interactive at school, less afraid to open up, paid more attention to other people . . . but I don’t see them as regrets, as it’s a life lesson. I do wonder sometimes if this just makes me very shallow.

    BTW, I *finally* got round to writing up that easy peasy cheesecake recipe for you – http://talkaboutcheesecake.com/2013/06/10/chilled-white-chocolate-cheesecake/

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    1. Piper, we share a similar regret. My husband and I also went straight from college to having a mortgage and kids. We didn’t get to travel alone as a couple. But, it’s strange because I can’t remember much of my life before children. They are a HUGE part of me. At the same time, I realize it’s okay to take off the ‘mommy hat’ every once in awhile.

      I’ll be swinging by for the cheesecake recipe. I would love to add fresh fruit if the recipe calls for it! 🙂

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  16. Oh I struggle. And struggle and struggle and struggle. It’s one of the reasons I write; to help deal with it. I have so many regrets already and yet every day I try to live as if regret is something that I can conquer. I’m trying. It’s not easy.

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    1. Nancy, it sounds like we are similarly wired. Is it safe to assume that you also struggle with perfectionism? That’s another thorn in my flesh. But like you, writing helps me process my muddled feelings. It’s wonderful to receive support and encouragement from this blogging community. Together we just keep on keepin’ on . . . 🙂

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      1. Oh yes, safe to assume indeed. Perfectionism haunts me. But you’re right, the support and encouragement and the writing it all out really helps.

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    1. Excellent distinction! I am much the same on the outside. But on the inside, there are days I need traffic signals to direct all the shouldas and couldas in my head!

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  17. Like you mentioned, I, too, am far behind in the blogs… I am sorry I missed this post until now as “what-if’s” will always come into mind when you are alone with your thoughts…when you look at an old photo of a special friend…when you think of something that happened at work…even in married life. I dwell on it a lot although I shouldn’t as it heightens regret. There is a term in Japanese that correlates to this melancholy although it truly has no fitting translation: 仕方が無い.

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  18. I love your answer to #1 and I agree totally! As a teen I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be an international dancer. I have since learned that a lot of famous people are unhappy and I can still enjoy dance without being famous. In fact, I probably get even more joy teaching than performing.

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    1. Shawn, you’re not alone. I think many people start out seeking titles and fame. But like most things, life experience and wisdom correct our thinking. It’s nice to hear that you’ve found such joy in teaching dance. I’m sure your students are totally blessed by your talent!

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  19. I adore this posting.
    I have a friend who, according to the doctors, may not live to see the summer. I hope every single day surpasses her dreams.
    I lost my aunt (I called her my fairy godmother) two years ago and it changed something for me.
    NO MORE PAUSING.
    In your words, no more of that monster.
    xo reversecommuter

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story about loss and love. I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s diagnosis. Hope she gets to taste life to the fullest. If you’re in contact with her, I’m sure she’ll feel energized and encouraged.
      You’re a shining light to so many!

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