One thing a lot of people tell you when you become a parent, I’ve found, is that you should savour the early months and years, because they’re over so quickly. Most of them mean well, I think, except for a minority who just enjoy trying to scare new parents about what’s coming next. But it’s still unhelpful advice if you’re the kind of person, like me, for whom it just triggers a fusillade of self-conscious questions: am I savouring things enough? What if I’m not? Will I regret it later? This mindset is, needless to say, incompatible with actually savouring time with my son, which was probably what I was doing immediately before you reminded me to do so. There’s a galling paradox here: focus too desperately on trying to avoid regret and you’re liable to spend a lot of time worrying about the risk of future regret, which is a rubbish way to spend your time, and therefore something you’re likely to regret. So that’s great.
The point applies to any aspect of life, of course: your time on Earth is short; it’s important to use it well; and yet thinking too hard about whether you’re using it well isn’t an example of using it well. The overexamined life is not worth living. (Additionally, research suggests that the fear of future regret makes people risk-averse – so as well as wasting time worrying, they’re likely to make regrettably cautious choices.) “Fear is temporary, regret is for ever,” goes an old self-help motto, intended to motivate timid souls to push past their anxieties. But it works only by harnessing a different fear – the fear that on your deathbed, you’ll wish you’d been bolder. Which isn’t much of an improvement: perhaps you’ll have a more exciting life, but you’ll still be spending it scared.
Excerpt from The Guardian, read the full article here