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You're a man haunted by those two most terrible words: "What If?"

The Time Machine. DreamWorks, 2002.

According to Psychology Today, regret is the second-most common emotion people mention in daily life, and it is the most common negative emotion. Marge, who is 84 years old, is quoted in the Legacy Project to say, “It all boils down to choices. Make a bad one in a few seconds and live with the consequences for the rest of your life.”

The Legacy Project was developed by Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at the College of Human Ecology Cornell University. The project collects practical advice and wisdom from people of age 70 and older. According to professor Pillemer, the project has gathered 1500 responses to the question: “What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?” Personally, I find the Legacy Project invaluable, and I partake of its wisdom on a daily basis. What I find most fascinating, however, is the overwhelming theme of this project mirrors that of my book Strong & Happy - Happiness is a choice, not a condition.

Happiness is a choice, not a condition

When it comes to regret, the elders of the Legacy Project have no qualms. The spirit of nearly every post can be summed up with three points:

1. Life is about choice. The choices you make now will shape who you are tomorrow. Choose wisely.

2. Do it now. Gail, who is 91 years of age, says, “Do it now. What young people will regret is not pursuing opportunities while they can."

3. If something you are about to do feels like you will regret it, then you probably will. Life is a balance of time and money. If you pursue money over family, then you will have regrets.

Do it now. What young people will regret is not pursuing opportunities while they can

My Regret

Those of you who follow my Facebook feed may know that I recently lost my mother, Fay Armocida. My mom lived to ninety-five years of age, and she died in her sleep. For this I am grateful. Even so, the occurrence of her death, and the aftermath of living in a world without her, has hit me harder than I thought. Part of my hurt stems from the fact that my mother lived her entire life as a trusting soul. Sadly, many saw this as a weakness to exploit. As a result, people often took advantage of her, or she was ridiculed for her naiveté. I strongly regret that I did not protect her from these attacks. Then there is the regret of failure. Having grown up poor, I spent my childhood watching my mother look in awe as others got to own nice things and go on exotic vacations. I vowed from an early age that I would make enough money to give my mother what my father could not. Unfortunately, my first wife took my wealth just when I reached a point where I could afford to keep that vow.

When my mother was buried, only my wife and I were in attendance. This was especially hurtful as my mother spent her life sacrificing for others. Sadly, when it came time to repay that kindness, those my mother loved and raised as her own, and even my own brother, did not send so much as a sympathy card. Instead, a lifelong buddy, with whom I grew up, battled three hours of rush hour traffic on a Friday night, and he was the only person to honor the memory of this sweet woman.

We Are Our Own Worst Enemy

What haunts me the most, however, are my own actions. I spent so many years involved in my own life that I can recall only a few fond moments spent with my mother. Furthermore, I allowed the final months I spent caring for my mother to be filled with frustration. There was love and affection also but words were said. My mother forgave me when I apologized, but the damage done will forever remain in my soul. In the end, having cared for my mother made her passing even harder. For three months, I dressed her, fed her, helped her in the bathroom, and I put this helpless creature to bed each night. This made her passing feel as if I lost not just a mother but a child. My greatest regret is that I did not hold my mother in my arms to tell her I loved her anywhere near enough. Nonetheless, my mourning will be short because, as a parent myself, I know my mother would rather I celebrate her life than to mourn for it.

Why Am I Telling You This?

When faced with the permanence of death, regret is a terrible thing. If you are lucky enough have your mom/dad, wife/husband, sister/brother, daughter/son; then stop reading this blog, go to them (or call them on the phone), and tell them how much you really love them. Do this every day. If you do, then you may not be haunted by those two most terrible words, “What If?”


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