Saturday, June 3, 2023

Off the Shelf: The Power of Regret


Now that the weather is more hospitable to people who like to sit outside at their favorite coffee spot and read, I've been working my way through a volume I promised myself I'd begin nearly half a year ago.

If it weren't for one brief passage in the fourth chapter, I wouldn't have shared the book with you here, as it isn't really a genealogy book. My tendency to dive down rabbit holes held out, though. There is always a way to apply life situations to family history, and Daniel Pink's latest—The Power of Regret—provides such an instance.

Admittedly, though I've followed this author through several of his books, the title he chose for his newest offering does not seem compelling to me. I am not one to wallow in regret, at least not in the last few years. Perhaps the mellowing process of Time has made that a possibility for me.

However, I'm not one of those people trumpeting that "No Regrets" motto, either. I don't use "because I want to" as my justification for choices I've made—even the ones which turn out, in retrospect, to have been bad ones.

There are many people for whom regrets have found their address and come knocking insistently upon their door. Perhaps knowing that, Dan Pink not only selected that topic for his latest book, but assembled a team to conduct a scientific survey on the topic—the American Regret Project—with a follow up survey they dubbed "The World Regret Survey." Some of the responses from subjects of the study are shared—with appropriate permissions, of course—in the pages of this book. And it was one such example in the fourth chapter which resonated with me.

If I were to ask readers here, along the lines of Pink's study, what they might have regretted in life, I'm sure there would have been a wide gamut of responses. And since you likely wouldn't be here reading this unless you were interested in family history, I'm sure you can guess one regret heard often among our fellow avocational genealogists: the regret that we didn't spend more time with our closest ancestors, asking them all the questions we now realize we have about our family.

That, it turns out, was the regret shared in Daniel Pink's book in that fourth chapter I mentioned. A woman who, at the time the book was written, was not quite yet thirty remarked about her childhood,

I regret not taking advantage of spending time with my grandparents as a child. I resented their presence in my home and their desire to connect with me, and now I'd do anything to get that time back.

I can't count how many times I've heard a variation on that same comment, from fellow members of our local genealogical society, or from other researchers sharing in online forums. We just didn't think of the questions we now agonize over not asking.

Fortunately, this perceptive respondent discovered a way to grow past the regret. Though she regrets that she "didn't hear their stories"—something many of us miss about wasting our older relatives on our youth instead of on our more mellow years when we could appreciate what they had to offer—the realization of that loss now inspires her to "seek out more meaning [and] seek out more connection."

Life becomes value-added when she now mixes meaning into the equation. Describing the missed opportunity of getting to know her grandparents better as "the bitterness of the taste of regret," this survey respondent used that regret to inspire her to see meaning in future opportunities.

Many of us have been in that same position. Perhaps that is what drives us to delve into our family's history so thoroughly—an attempt to make up for the missed opportunities of our younger years. And maybe the efforts that regret has inspired will help preserve those family stories so that when the next generation realizes they share that same regret, our experience will have "paid it forward" to help fill in the gaps.


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