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Money, Life, and Regret

living intentionally reduces regret and gives meaning to life
❝Life is a gym membership with a really complicated cancellation policy.❞ -Rudy Francisco

My friend and I can't stop laughing. It's 1990, and we're watching a movie that we've seen a dozen times, Little Monsters. Little Monsters is a movie where Howie Mandel plays a monster that lives under Fred Savage's bed. I'm at my friend's place, and I have instructions that as soon as the movie is over, I have to go home. In other words, what's the movie is done, the fun's over.

Despite the fact that the end of the movie meant the end of fun, we still enjoy the movie. Knowing that there would be an end to the movie did not ruin the movie for us.

Looking back, I can imagine a scenario in which I was so worried about the movie ending that I didn't enjoy the movie at all. My worry could have ruined the experience altogether.

The movie might be a simple example, but if we slide the intensity all the way up, we'll find that the same applies to life. Many people are so worried about death that they ignore life altogether and, in doing so, look back on their life from their deathbed full of regrets.

Just because the end will come does not mean we can't enjoy the experience.


It's easy to forget the fact that life is short. What happens after we die is both unknown and unknowable. The only thing we know for sure is that we are lucky enough to experience this life. We owe it to ourselves to not take this life for granted.

It's common for people who have near-death experiences or lose someone close to them to start to re-evaluate their lives. It's only when they run face-to-face with the reaper that they start to get their priorities straight.

Practicing gratitude is the antidote to taking our lives for granted. Practicing gratitude helps combat what psychologists call hedonic adaptation, or the idea that we get used to our surroundings very quickly.

Remembering the shortness of life is a springboard into a life of gratitude.

remember life is short - be grateful for what you have


Remembering that life is finite has the potential to make people think that they ought to "live like they are dying." This idea is so popular it has a popular abbreviation, YOLO, which stands for you only live once. The idea behind YOLO is that you should not put off having fun if you can do it today because, well, you only live once.

This idea is absolutely correct; we do only live once, we should not put off living our life, and we are well-served by remembering that this is our one life. What it gets wrong, however, is that life is longer than one day. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, of course, but it's reasonable to assume that you will be around in the future.

There will be future versions of you, and those future versions of you deserve to get taken care of just as much as you right now deserve to get taken care of.

When we live in a reactionary way, we live in a way where we forget that there will be future versions of us. In the popular television program How I Met Your Mother, main characters Ted and Marshall don't want to deal with their problems. They actually articulate to each other, "this sounds like a problem for future Ted in Marshall." The problem is that Ted and Marshall, in the present, are always upset at past Ted and Marshall.

Keeping the future in mind will help keep you from robbing your future selves. It helps you live more intentionally.

there will be many future version of you - take care of them


Believe it or not, regret can be good for us. Regret gives us information about something that we may have done wrong. Regret lets you know that there's something you can do better in the future. In fact, we can be grateful for feeling regret. Regret can help us recognize our shortcomings or missteps so that we can do something different next time.

We can't change the past. Hoping that we can is not the point of regret. Regret takes information from the past, informs us in the present so that we can make better decisions in the future.

With regret, there are learning opportunities. Something that we regret doing or not doing doesn't need to be labeled a failure. It's only a failure if we are unable to learn the lesson.

Further, feeling regret is kind of like eating dirt. Kids get exposed to all kinds of germs, and those germs make them sick, at least in the short run. However, over the long run, it builds up their immune system. Similarly, regret can feel like being sick in the short run. However, it builds resiliency. It helps us cope with challenges in the future. It helps build our so-called psychological immune system.

Regret is only bad when we dwell on the past and replay the situation over and over in our heads.

regret can be helpful, but not if you ruminate


We can't change the past and therefore can't eliminate regrets from the past. But the future hasn't happened yet, and we do have the ability to cut down and possibly eliminate future regret.

In her book The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying, Bronnie Ware writes about the most common regrets people have on their deathbed. Those regrets are related to misliving our lives. The most common regrets include living the life other people expected of us instead of living the life we wanted to live, working too hard, and not expressing ourselves.

We know how bad it feels to feel regret, so if we could minimize future regret, then we would minimize the chance that will lay on our deathbed, wondering what if and what could have been.

If you're feeling up to it, imagine yourself at the end of your long life. Imagine who is there with you and where you are. Then imagine what would have happened for you to be proud of that life that you're looking back on.

Now that you know the kind of life you'd be proud of to look back on, you still have time to do something about it.

what can you do so that future you doesn't feel regret?


You are in the position to design a life that would make you proud. You can choose to align your life with your most important values. Once you know what kind of life you want to live, you can use your money to support that life. This is different from choosing a life so that you can get money - a common default choice.

Doing this will help you build a life that will bring you meaning, purpose, joy, and contentment.

design a life that aligns with your financial purpose in a way that you reduce future regret

Ben Franklin has been credited with saying nothing can be certain except death and taxes. This quote is often used as a joke to talk about taxation. But if we start to remember the other half of the quote, that we will die and everyone we love will die, we can look at what we want out of this one life that we have.

You only have one life. Live intentionally.

Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences

Emmons, Robert: THANKS!

Glasgow, Joshua: The Solace

Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis

Ivtzan, I., T. Lomas, K. Hefferon & P. Worth: Second Wave Positive Psychology

Klontz, Brad & Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money

Lindsay, James: Life in Light of Death

Manson, Mark: Everything is F*cked

McKeown, Greg: Essentialism

Millburn, Joshua Fields & Ryan Nicodemus: Essential

Solomon, Sheldon, Jeff Greenberg & Tom Pyszczynski: The Worm at the Core

Wallace, David Foster: This is Water

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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