Plain English with Derek Thompson - The Meaning of Life and the Power of Regret


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I want to talk about the meaning of life.


I’m kidding.

Well, I’m kind of kidding.

So, in 1938, some researchers, from Harvard University enrolled about 270 undergrad, dudes.

And kept in, touch with them for the next 80 years. 80 years.

The goal of this study was to learn the secret of a good life and they measure just about everything you could possibly imagine IQ had her writing style blood earnings testicles.


Yep, the limitations of the study are pretty obvious.

You’re all white men who went to Harvard, then the less in 2017, 80 years in the life of the study Harvard summarize its findings.

They said the one thing most predictive of Happiness out of everything in the world.


Can you guess money?

No Health important but no it was the quality of your relationships relationships with your parents with a partner spouse friends.

Even with yourself.

I remember when I read that conclusion a few years ago.


My first thought was all the Disney clichés are true.

Like this study is need but Harvard University might have been able to save itself, 15 million dollars, 80 years and a crap ton of filing space.

If people just watched Dumbo and took notes, and this is an issue that I have with a lot of self-help.


As a genre that the genre is basically the reshuffling of cliches that, you know, are true.

But like maybe you need a reminder to prioritize it be true to yourself.


Take Leti.

Yep, happiness equals Expectations - reality, but recently I read a book that blessedly does the opposite.


It takes a cliche.

No regrets.

We’ve all heard that one a million times.

No regrets and blows it up.

The book is the power of regret by Dan pink.

And I recently interviewed him live at the Washington, d.c.

Synagogue six and I in front of a live audience, which was huge thrill and that is the interview you’re going to hear today.


Dan’s book is very simple and yet also I think pretty profound.

It’s about why people around the world and Americans in particular have developed an unhealthy relationship with regret.

We tell people don’t live in the past.

Don’t Linger on your mistakes when living in the past briefly and lingering on your mistakes just enough.


He is what learning is about.

It’s what growth is about?

And there’s something I have step deeper.

If you ask enough people what they regret and you piece together, all of their answers, a friendship lost a risk.


Not taken a bad habit, left unfixed, what you get is a kind of photo negative image of that 80 here, Harvard study.

Ask enough people, what they regret?

And they will tell you the meaning of life.


I’m Derrick Thompson.

This is plain English.


Welcome everyone.

It is such a thrill to have an in-person event.

You give yourself an Applause.

So at the beginning of the pandemic, I made it a point in my life to meditate every single day and my mind was like, a dog on a leash.


It would Scurry, Scurry, scurry.

And then I would hear someone in tone, in my head, bring it back to the breath and get back to the breath.

They kept telling me, don’t think about the future.

Don’t think about the past?

No anxiety.

No regret be here.


Dan’s book has undone, 20 months of meditation expertise.


Then tell me why you are so, you’re welcome.

Yeah, you say that no regrets is life Thor.

Ting nonsense.


Yes, I also call it.

Another word that is often referred to as a barnyard epithet that I don’t want to say out loud in a synagogue.


So first before I do, I’ll answer your question, Derek, but Thanks for coming out.

Holy moly.

This is this is true.

This is one of the first in-person book events in Washington DC, in two years and you’re here.


And you made it happen and give yourselves a round of applause for that.

I’m so grateful now.

So no regrets is a very popular philosophy.

It is, it is in songs.

Ella Fitzgerald has a song called No Regrets.


Eminem has a song called, No Regrets Emmylou.

Harris has a song called No Regrets.

There are songs about that.

Edith Piaf had a song about that.

It is in television commercials.

I have in the book as Derek as you know, Dozens of people who have it tattooed onto their bodies.


And here’s the thing.

It’s a really, really bad idea.

It’s a really bad idea.

And the reason it’s a bad idea is that everybody has regrets every single human being has regrets that the only people Without Regrets are five year olds.


Because their brains haven’t developed people with lesions in the orbital frontal cortex of their brain.

People some people with Huntington’s disease and and a Parkinson’s and sociopaths every everybody, you can always get a laugh with sociopath.


And so, you know, this is.

So this idea that no regrets is a sign of a serious problem in the reason for that is that regret is painful, it hurts, but it serves a function It serves a very important function because it makes us human, and it makes us better.

And so, what I’m trying to do here is just Shake people and say stop it.


It’s this is a really stupid idea.

It actually is a, it is a life-threatening idea because if we think that having no regrets is, is it is an act of Courage.

It’s not.

What is courage is staring your regrets in the eye and doing something about them before we jump into the book.

How did you come up with?

The idea of writing a book, to try to explode, the ubiquitous notion that we shouldn’t that we should not regret.



Part of it.

Derek, as you know, because, you know, Derek, Derek is a just There’s a whole swath of Science and economics and other kinds of things.

And one of the things Derek does very well is translate, a lot of the academic research into popular understanding.


And one of the things you understand about academic researchers.

Is that old line.

That all research is me search and You know, here’s the thing.

I had this, I’ll give you that there was a if there was a catalytic moment, it was when my our elder daughter, my wife Jessica is here.


Give her a round of applause.

We have a we have we have a an our elder daughter graduated from college in 2019.

So we’re at this graduation and it’s really long and there’s all kinds of stuff going on and I just start spacing out and and but then I started Sort of having this out of Body Experience where I said, wait a second, how can this kid?


Be graduating from college.

She was just born and I said, how can I have a kid graduated from college?

Because I’m like, 26.

And as I started thinking about that, I started looking back on my own college experience.


And I said, God dang, you know, I wish I wish I’d taken more risks.

I wish I wish I had been kinder to people and I came back and and, and, and started talking to people about that.

And to my surprise instead of recoiling, when I brought that up, because you’re not supposed to talk about regrets, they leaned in and they want all my God, you know, I know what you’re talking about and I thought and, you know, as a writer when people you mentioned something and people lean in, you know, you know, you got something and actually forgive this long-winded story is that was actually working on entirely different book at the time.


It’s working on something completely different and it’s like golly like I can’t get this idea of regret out of my mind.

I think part of it was my position in life.

That is I don’t know if I would have written this book in my 30s in my 50s, it felt kind of inevitable because suddenly there’s mileage behind me, and but hopefully, there’s mileage ahead and like, okay, I got to learn from what happened there to apply over here.


And and so I surreptitiously started doing research on this topic.

Regret looking at the academic research and about a month later.

I sent my editor.

My beloved editor, Jake and email.

Hey, Jake, good news and bad news.


That book that you think I’ve been working on for the last two months.

I haven’t done a thing.

The good news is that I have a better idea c25 page proposal attached.

And so that’s how I decided to do that.

So I decided to do that all writers note.

I totally agree that if you have an idea that other people want to commiserate with you about that.


They want to lean in and complain with you.


Yeah, you’re like if they like the idea if they say hmm, that’s interesting.

BB - if they say, I want to complain about this for They’re our, then you have an idea for a 250 page books, absolute.

Most of unrecognized.

The book is built around a world regret surveillance, think fascinating map of 17,000 people around the world and the regrets, they were willing to share with you online.


Tell me a little bit about this project and how it evolved to become, in my opinion, really the quantitative spine, of the book.


So so I did it.

I did a couple of Things in this book.

One of them was it was a something called the American regret project which was a quantitative survey and they think about that which is so interesting is that in contrast to when I first started out doing this, it’s possible for someone like me on his own to do pretty sophisticated, survey research.


For a very low cost as a sort of a mostly, a one-man band and it and I was able to do the largest survey, very, very good public opinion.

Survey of American attitudes about regret that’s ever been conducted.

And we found as Jackie was saying, it’s like if you ask people the question of so you ask people.


Do you have regrets?

They say no if you ask people to question, how often do you look back on your life and wish you had done something differently?

And you don’t say the r word?

You get one percent of Americans saying never you got 83 percent saying they do it at least occasionally.


So I did that that was kind of interesting.

I really think the game changer for me at least just in conceptually was I decided to say invite Pi need material.

All right, and I said, okay, I’m gonna do is I’ll put up a website and flak it a little bit and encourage people to contribute their regrets, and if I get a few hundred regrets, that’ll give me some really interesting.


Materials and stories for this book.

With literally, for like two or three tweets.

Suddenly, we had 15,000 from all over the world.

We have we now have in the database as Derek said, over 17,000, regrets from people in 105 countries and that proved to be fascinating because I would come into my office every day.


Fire up the qualtrics database and read through these regrets.

And it was endlessly, interesting.

And kind of amazing, what people Willing to share from all over the place.

And also, then over time, I started seeing patterns.

I think what’s interesting is the fact that you got 15,000 testimonies of regrets in a matter of days.


Suggests to me that all these people were trying to meditate, like me, and they were pushing the request deep deep deep down into their soul.

And you were just like, you know, an oil scouter.

You set up the Oil Barons right over these regrets.

And that they came shooting up all this great metaphor.


Yeah, that’s that’s That’s a great metaphor because I do think that it is out there and there is not a there is not a single person who have had a conversation with recently, when I say, well, do you have any regrets and about a third of people say no and then they tell me they regret and then the other two thirds just tell me the regret because people want to talk about it and and you know as we might talk about later, the very Act of disclosing one’s regrets is helpful.


That’s a positive beneficial thing on a number of different levels, I think.

I imagine myself as someone in the audience.

I’m thinking, okay, you have this incredible map of things that people have regretted.

You have communicated to me that regrets right kind of photo negative of what makes a good life.


So what is it that people regrets that I can go on and live a full good life.

You identify four core regrets foundational, regrets boldness, regrets, moral regrets and connection.


Let’s go category by category.



Let’s go with foundational.

I want to read an example of Foundation regrets in the book, quote.

This is female 45 Minnesota, quote, following a career path, for money, instead of for my passion or work.

I would actually enjoy my mother.

Convinced me.

I would starve to death if I pursued a career in art.


So now, I am stuck behind a desk, Tangled in management, red tape and the life is draining out of me and quote.

It’s an uplifting booster.


What I would argue.

That was a boldness regret.


Okay, but I’ll come back.

We’ll come back to that.

So, and I will answer your question but as is my custom, let me give you a discursive, contextual Preamble.

So one of the things so I did.

So I did this quantitative survey saying I’m going to crack the nut by doing this this survey of regret and and and what I wanted to try to find out was what do people regret?


Because there’s academic research on what people regret and it was kind of All over the place.

Sometimes people, the researcher said, it’s education.

It is careers.

It’s romance.

It’s family.

And I like, okay.

I feel like I can crack the nut on this.

And so I went out with this very large sample, 4480 nine, Americans, gorgeously representative of this great country and ask people their regrets and had them.


Put them in categories and thing.

This idea that people regret a lot of things isn’t very satisfactory.

And then I came back with my results.

We crunched the numbers, and we discovered The people regret a lot of things that those categories weren’t telling us anything.


But when I, when I went to these quantitative, these qualitative things, I started seeing that there were patterns underneath and let’s come back to let’s come back to Foundation.

Regrets here for a moment.

We had a lot of people around the world for instance who regretted smoking.



That’s a health regret.

We had a lot of people around especially in America who regretted not saving money.

Someone who said one guy who’s in the book is like I’m 43 years old.

I’ve been working for 25 years and I haven’t saved dime.

So, that’s a financial Financial regret.


And what I found over and over again, is that with his first category, are these Foundation regrets which are which sound like this?

If only I’d done the work, people who regret not working hard enough in school.

A lot of people.

I know we have a lot of Educators here.


Thank you for thank you for being Educators, especially in this fraught moment, but you can say tell a lot of these kids later on in life.

I told you so because they’re going to regret not working hard in school, right?

Not working hard in school, not making good health decisions, not saving money.


So it’s a small things that accumulate into larger consequences over time.

And it’s ESOP.

People regret being the being the grasshopper, not the end.

And what does that mean?

It means that they regret if they fiddle away, all of their time and don’t plan for the future in some way.


And actually, it’s really about, it’s about work, and conscientiousness more than anything else.

You have a lot of laments of people think.


I wish.

I had just worked hard.

I wish I had been more conscientious.

I wish I had been less, you know, focused only on what was right in front of me.


And so that’s, that’s Foundation.

That’s Foundation, regrets.

When I think about some of the regrets that I have in my work, or in my career, I feel like they fall into two, very different categories.

So, in one category, there are regrets.

I have about, you know, I wrote my first book.


I’m currently writing my second book.

I look back at the things that I regret having done in my first book and I try to learn from those mistakes.

I do this with writing all the time.

I’m lucky the right for a place that I can at the Atlantic where I can write several times a week.

I write an article, it doesn’t do.


I learned.


Oh, this is how I can write an article that Or people will read.

So I’m regretting and then through pulling that regret forward in the future as a lesson.

There’s other regrets that are harder to act on.

So for example, in college, I majored in political science.

And when I majored in political science, I took a lot of classes about World War one and every class about world will one ask the question.


Why did World are one happened?

And every class had the same answer?

We have no idea.

So I feel like I took all these classes that taught me nothing and I should have majored in philosophy, or history or art or theater or Else instead, so, but I can’t go back to college.

I can’t let go back to my poli-sci professors and say, hey, can we like have a little bit of a mulligan?


So, how do I, how do I smartly contextualize?

That s regret in my life given that it’s not clear that I can really change something in a here now about it.


It’s a great question Derek.

And so some, some regrets.

We have our sort of opened or regrets and closed or regrets.


So there’s some things that we can do something about it.

Some things we can that one.

I mean, you can’t go back and You can’t go back and do that.

I think what you can learn on that one is, you can go to the conditions under which you made that initial decision.

So why did you major in political science?

I like politics, huh?


It turned out.

That I was just going to take 101 classes.

Did you did you did you talk to anybody in who majored in political science before you chose this?

I can’t remember that I did.


So before we go, so let’s so so.


So I think that the lesson you learned from that is the very important principle of.

I think, in this case, the very important principle of Surah.

Gation that the best way to make a decision about what to do, what to do.

Something is to find people who are surrogates who’ve already made that decision who’ve already done, that kind of thing.


So you want to know what it’s like going to a particular college or university.


People like you who’ve gone to that college.

Don’t read the brochure, don’t go on the tour.

Find people who’ve done that.

So you had in your head, this idea.

I love politics.


I’m going to major in something that has the word in it, which is not the thought process, which is not sufficient, due diligence, Derek.


What you want to do is you want to, you want to have that sir gatien.

So I think in this case, you can you can extract that principle of Sir gatien going forward.

And so if you, so, let’s take your second book now, so, if you would come to me and said, should I write a second book?

I I’d say get out of the business.


It’s horrible.

This is that that were working it out.

Yeah, let’s go to the second Corps regret that you identified boldness.

What our boldness.

Regrets boneless regrets are really.

Real are really, really interesting and they surprised me a little bit and there are I think they’re a good example of how these these four core regrets cut across domains.


Let me tell you what I mean by that.

So we’ve got in the database.

Let’s go back.

Let’s go back to cut.

Did you study abroad in college?

That’s another regret.

I did not study abroad in college.

Okay, so we have so many Americans who went to college and didn’t study abroad.


Who regret it is what it is.

I was shocked at how often I saw that regret come up over and over and over again.

And truly.

I know we have some onto always entrepreneurs at 6:00 and I This is my free business idea of the day, start a travel agency targeting surveying Americans who didn’t study abroad, who regretted and now a money in their pocket and can do some kind of study abroad thing as an adult.


I’m telling you.

It’s a huge.

It’s a huge business.

So so we have that.

We have that, that regret didn’t study abroad.

That’s an education regret.

Then we have lots of regrets from people lot of regrets from people around the world.


I Stay Like the woman you’re talking about.

I stayed in this lackluster job.

I wrote what I really wanted to do is start a business.

I stayed in this, this sort of dead end position.

But what I really wanted to do was go out on my own and be more entrepreneurial.

That’s a career regret.

Then we have literally, literally this is this point in, in a way hundreds of regrets around the world with almost the exact same sentence structure, which was X years ago, I met a man / woman whom I really liked.


I wanted to ask him/her out but I was too chicken and I’ve regretted it ever since.

I’m not talking about one or two of these.

I’m talking hundreds of these around the world.

There’s one woman a 60 year old woman, I think from Pennsylvania who regretted not marrying Joe Schmidt.


All right, so so so that’s a romance regret.

But all those regrets are the same.

That’s a regret.

If only taken the chance, you’re at a juncture.

You can play it safe.

You can take the chance and over and over again.

People regret playing it safe, and Even people, I these people like, writing these longest things even people who took the chance and it didn’t work out.


Most of them are okay on that.

It’s the people who didn’t take the chance who didn’t, who weren’t bold, that really Nas at them and sticks with them over and over again.

And category number three, is moral regrets.

What our moral regret.

We regret our, you’re at a juncture.

We’re always at a juncture with regrets because it’s a decision point, you can do the right thing.


You can do the wrong thing.

You do the wrong thing.

Like the woman who Jackie mentioned and people regret it big time and it’s a small category, but it’s a painful category.

So we have again, the educator is might find this interesting.


Literally hundreds of regrets from around the world of people who regret having bullied kids while they were in school.

I was I was really I was really Blown Away by that enormous regrets about infidelity.

Like I’m just looking at the Ten Commandments.

They’re like, yeah, they’re you at the number 7, lucky enough, you know, we got a lot about what go.


I got a lot about number seven on adultery and to me, I thought those moral regrets are actually somewhat heartening in the sense that you have people who do something wrong, and instead of blindly, casting It Off.

It can’t, it sticks to them.


It bugs them.

Is there any way that you found?

People felt that certain kinds of regrets?

Not at them more than other types of regrets.

Like, for me personally, and I’m not representative of 17,000 people and only myself, but the regret that Nas, it me the most is when I Wrong a friend, that’s the thing.


I can’t stop thinking about.

There’s a, there’s a line from I think it’s from brothers karamazov, and it’s from some translation and I’m already paraphrasing it.

So don’t go looking through the For this exact line, but the father says, I wronged that man and I’ve never been able to forgive him.


That regret.

Hmm from wrong and someone you love is so powerful.

That sometimes your subconscious flip set and forces you to hate the person that you wrongs.

It’s just such a powerful thing to live with the regret of having wrong.


Someone that you love and just okay here listening to you.

Talk about more will get what do you do?

What do I do?

What did you do?

What did I do?

Am I nothing nearly as bad as this topic Aramis, have I promise you, but, but it, but it makes me wonder whether whether more regrets or any other types of regrets had like a larger signal attached to them.


It’s an easy question.

I’m not sure.

I do know that it’s a smallest category.

But in some ways for people, you can sort of sense a little bit of that anguish in the way that people write about them in the way that they talk about them.

The other thing that’s interesting about moral regrets is people’s willingness to talk about them as a form of expiation in a way.


Like, I mean, like you might find this interesting as a writer.

So I had these people who are confessing basically to some bad things and you know, including infidelity and you know, when I did the interviews of them, I said, listen, let’s just talk and I don’t have to use your name.

I can use a pseudonym or something like that.


And and I tell them that said, no, that’s okay.

You can use my name and then I write it and I come back to them for some fact-checking questions.

And I say, you know, we can always use a pseudonym or different name.

Is it?

No, that’s okay.

And for one person one person, I said, listen, I don’t do this, but I’m going to show you what I just wrote because I’m using your name.


This is going to be in a book with your name on it that people will read and she’s like, okay, that’s fine.

And so there’s something I think that is cathartic to people about about getting it about, getting it out there.

But there is, I think the infidelity regrets non-people for precisely that reason because it is, it’s an, it’s a, it’s an act of It’s wrong and it hurt somebody.


You nominally love.

Last category is connection regrets.

I’d love for you to talk about connection Regrets by alluding to the grant study, which is this remarkable Harvard study where they took the class of 1938.


I think they took a class from Harvard graduates, the middle of the 20th century and they followed them for 80 years and they measured everything just as I’m reading that from your book.

Length of the setting, its detail are astounding, researchers measured the men’s IQ analyze their handwriting, examined their brows, and testicles.


They drew blood took electroencephalograms a word.

I learned from your book.

Thank you and calculated their lifetime earnings.

The audacious goal was to try to determine why some people flourished in work and life and others floundered braids together.


The lessons of the grant study with your conclusions from connection.

Regrets the biggest category were these things that I called that that week, the called connection regrets and those were all about relationships.

And essentially the pattern was always the same, you have a relationship or should have had a relationship and it comes apart and the way that these relationships come apart in 19 cases, out of 20 is so profoundly undramatic.


It’s adrift not a rift and the and what happens is that somebody doesn’t want to reach out, somebody wants to reach out and they say it’s going to be awkward if I reach out and the other side isn’t going to care.

And they’re wrong and yet they don’t do it in a drift apart.


And then you have these horrible things where somebody passes away.

I had was a woman in the book who, who wanted to call her friend, who had cancer.

And she said, oh, it’s gonna be awkward.

It’s gonna be awkward is gonna be awkward.

And when you finally calls that morning, the friend had passed away.

I’m just horrible, horrible, things like that.


And one of the things that this, this tells us is that.

Well, first, I think there’s a big takeaway here, which is that when people do Reach Out, Here’s what happens?

It’s not awkward.

Or it’s a lot less awkward.

They imagine that other side.


They’re always glad to be reached out to.

I had this woman.

I just frustrating conversation with a woman in this book who named Cheryl, who had this college friend named.

Jen and they came apart over, like 25 years.

And she’s like, oh and she says, his anguish regret and I talked to her so many times.


Oh, I don’t know if I should reach out to Jen.

She’s gonna think it’s creepy and I’m finally said to her Cheryl.

What, just put?

What have Jen reached out to you today.

How would you feel about that?

And she said, oh my God, Dan would bring tears to my eyes would be the greatest thing.

For happened to me.

And I’m like, hello.


And so, one of the things that you see is that for me a big takeaway personally was that you’re at this juncture and you’re wondering, should I reach out or should I reach out?

Or should I not reach out?

if you make it to that juncture, You’ve answered the question.

Always Reach Out seriously.


When in doubt, reach out, this is totally changed my view on this.

And so when we go back to this point of the photographic negative of the good life, what are people looking for here?

When people tell us what they regret the most, they’re telling us what they value the most, and in this case in connection regrets, they’re telling us with what they value is love and not.


And, in some ways.

We have this circumscribed view of love, where we think of it, where we serve over index on romantic love.


It’s bigger than that.

It’s the love we have for our kids and for our parents, and for our siblings, and for our relatives, and for our friends, and for our colleagues and and going back to the grants that are the grant study did all these things following people for 60 years and the guy who started it.


George valent has an unpublished paper.

He says, oh, well, we did we track these people for 70 years, but I can summarize this study in five words.

He says and he says, Happiness Is Love.


And it comes out again and again, and again, and again.

And and I think that what’s so interesting for me, at least in taking on this sort of topic that has some negativity to it that people wait a second regret.

Why are you writing about regret?

Is that what you have with these sixteen seventeen thousand people?


Is this chorus of voices, telling us what matters to them, the most what makes life worth living.

What is a good life?

And there is just remarkable consensus on that all o literally all over the world.

The mark of a good book is that it has like a top-line thesis and then it has sometimes a sneaky bottom-line thesis.


It’s the little bit like, you know, it’s like a, it’s like a like a secret note on a whiskey that you only get, like, just as it’s going down.

It’s like, I think there’s something else there.

And this book has that.

And that second thesis is that we Americans.

Certainly the probably all over the world are just very bad at sitting with negative emotions.


We are really, really bad.

And allowing a Negative emotion to occur to appear in our Consciousness and to sit with it.

We banish it.

In fact, we say no regrets is if it’s an order right, go away.

Why tell me a little bit about because this is such a clear sort of sub.


Thesis of the book, tell me a little bit about how you think about like sort of Americans and our like modern people’s relationship to negativity to negative emotions.


Thank you for.

Thank you for asking that because I think it’s I think it is.

Core and I do think it’s particularly American in many ways.


I think it’s a very good point.

We don’t know how to deal with negative emotions.

No one ever told us.

They, I don’t know.

I just, you know, I don’t put it any individual blame.

So, what happens is that we are we think, never look, back, always be positive, never look back, always be positive.


And then when we feel bad, when we feel crappy, when we feel - we think, oh, wait a second.

There’s something wrong with me or we say, well, that’s not real, no regrets.

And we banish it.

And so at some level, we take these negative emotions and we ignore them, but you can’t ignore them for.



And so what happens sometimes is almost the opposite side of that spectrum is that people then get hijacked by them and and get captured by them.

And so, what we have to do, we haven’t been instructed on how to do this.

We think, you know, there’s one view negative emotions are for ignoring.


Bad idea.

It’s a bad idea.

Negative emotions are for wallowing.

That’s a worse idea.

Negative emotions are for thinking negative emotions are signals, negative emotions are information.

They’re trying to tell us something and the reason that regret is and there’s research from going back, literally 30 years, when we’re scientists.


Look at things like everyday conversations and the catalog, the emotions that people Express the most.

Negative emotion that people Express.

Is regret.

The second most common - the second, most common emotion of any kind that they express his regret.


The only emotion, expressed more than regret is love.

So you have this you have this thing.

Why is it there?

Why do we have this?

Because it’s functional, it regret instructs.


It clarifies regret is a teacher.

And so if you banish it, you’re not getting the instruction if you Wallow in it.

You’re not listening to the instruction.

But the thing is, no one’s ever taught us that in part because we like the instruction, but the instruction comes with a little dose of pain and we don’t want the pain.


The problem is, you can’t get it.

You can you have to have that little bit of that Spear of pain in order to get the instruction.

And no one’s ever told us that we think that feeling is not for ignoring and feeling is not for wallowing in.

Feeling is for thinking these negative feelings.


Feelings are signals.

It’s a knock on the door.

It is a teacher at the front of the room.

It is, it is instructive and and I wasn’t, you know, no one ever sat me down in Columbus, Ohio sedan here.

Let’s go talk about how to deal with negative emotions.

No, they said, wait a second.


Why are you so you need to smile more?

It’s like, well, I don’t feel like smiling because I’m having a negative emotion it.

Well, you shouldn’t be doing that young man.

Go out and play football.

You know, my wife is a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

So Actually, rather exposed to, to the joy of negative emotions.


In many ways.

It is not because we have negative emotions together because she has clients to be clear.

She’s not here.

So I can, I guess, make these jokes, but she’s white.

She’s watching.

She’s one of those is one of the hundreds of people to life in the live stream.


So after hey, what I think, what I think my wife would say if she was sitting in this chair after police asking me to leave is to say, look, we practice of Avoidance with our negative feelings.


And this book is a kind of exposure therapy.

Mm4, regret.

This book forces us to look regret in the face and stop fearing it.

As much as we have the emotion, that sort of occurred to me as being somewhat similar and and how it can be a teacher.

And maybe this is just an emotion that occurs commonly in the life of a writer is jealousy.



Jealousy is a really good teacher.

You, how could jealousy possibly be a dishonest emotion?


No one wants to feel jealousy.

So of jealousy is a rising, right?

It’s probably telling you something now it can lie.



Jealousy, can lie, but it’s telling you that there’s something that you want and if you sit with it a little bit, if you read something that makes you jealous, if you read a book that makes you jealous an article that makes you jealous, see something that makes you jealous and you sit with it for just a bit.

Why am I jealous?

Why do I feel such energy about this?


And he’s sort of explore.

It’s just a little bit.

It, you can find something at the bottom that could actually guide you toward better work because it teaches you exactly what you want.

And regret in a way is sort of retro.

Is it performs a similar function which is in their inner retroactive kind of way.


I wanted to ask about the concept of near misses.

It’s a really fascinating chapter in this book about near.


Tell me about the Olympics steady and what it teaches us about why regret can be so much more.


Pungent when it’s a near-miss as opposed to something that didn’t seem like it was possible in our life in the first place.

Yeah, and this is part of how we recognize its this is also part of how we reckon with the past.

So there’s a very famous study from 1992 Tom gilovich in Victoria Med Vic did this.


And it’s you know, as many of you know, the world of specially social psychology, has been hit with something called a replication crisis where all these tantalizing findings don’t.

People We Run The Experiment.

They don’t show up.

This has been this one has been replicated and it’s kind of its kind of intriguing.


So they look at Olympic medalist and they have a look at photographs of Olympic medalists.

And so of course on the medal stand, the gold medalist is the happiest.

The silver medal is the second happiest and the bronze medal is a third happiest, but that’s not true.

The gold medal is beaming.


The bronze medalist is pretty psyched.

Happy to be here. and the, the silver medalist is like, They’ve just finished second in in a competition for the best athlete in the world and they finished second there.


The second best in the world and they look glum.

Why is that?

It’s because of our brains ability to do counterfactual Xin regret is a counterfactual so you can do a what’s called a downward counterfactual, right?

That is the silver, the bronze medalist saying At least I didn’t finish.



I have a metal, right?

It could have been worse.

You could also do an an upward counterfactual and that’s what that’s in some ways.

What jealousy is.

It’s an it, but is in very large part.

What we’re would regret is which is if only I kicked a little harder.

I would have a I would have a gold medal.


And this is an and this is an our brains do this instantly.


We are, it’s in any, it’s an incredibly powerful cognitive move that?

We make, this is why I like little kids can’t do it.

Their brains haven’t, don’t have the muscularity to do it yet.


And, and so there’s ability to think counterfactually is powerful and it makes us better.

It makes us better.

If only I’d kick harder, and then you have people who come back the next Olympics, and kick a little harder, and maybe, and, and maybe they maybe they win.

But these upward counterfactual ’s, which stink we hate them.


They cause us pain.

They make us better these if onlys They make us better if we’re willing to just withstand a little that Spear of pain, listen to it live with it as you say and do something about it.


And there also are ways built in the science.

I mean, your wife knows a lot of these techniques from things like cognitive behavior therapy, but I actually think it even goes broader than that about.

What do we, you know, how do we take these?

How do we take the stomach-churning feeling?

Basically have a existential antacid and then use it as a force for forward progress.


Cognitive restructuring.

Yeah, it’s, this is, this is, this is what happened to me.

I’m thinking about it, negatively as the silver medalist because I could have been in first place cognitive restructure.

You are the second best of this thing in the world.

You are 99.999%.


I let this thing you are by all accounts thrillingly successful.

That’s the gun.

He wanted to flip that part of it, too.

And and with regrets, there is a There is a, there’s another set of processes that we can do that.

No one like I’m learning this myself.

Like I mean, I’m I’m reading some of this this research on on.


There’s a concept called.

I don’t know how many are familiar with the concept of self compassion, anybody?

Okay, so more than I would have expected.

So, that was fairly new to me and I’m like, I’m reading the all this research on self-compassion.

I’m like, holy moly man, like somebody should have told me this earlier and so self-compassion is one of the first steps in Reckoning with our regrets and again, Then we have this thing where we’re, we’re almost to Binary.


So a lot of times when we let’s say, we feel regret, we have, we we go too far on self-esteem, for instance.

So research on self-esteem shows, you got to have some self-esteem.

There’s no question and some of it’s pretty good.

But self-esteem is not all good, because a lot of self-esteem is comparative.


A lot of self-esteem is built on in groups versus out groups.

A lot of self-esteem, certain kinds of self-esteem leads to people, not working very hard because they don’t want to actually expose themselves to any kind of failure.

Now, that’s so in one corner.

We have self-criticism self-esteem in the other Corner, we have self-criticism, and so self-criticism is awesome.



I love self-criticism.

Then I went looking for evidence that it’s effective.

It’s not there.

Some criticism is not very effective.

What’s effective is this Third Way, which is self compassion, which is sort of a gooey phrase.


I’ll admit built on the work of Kristin Neff at the University of Texas.

And basically what it says is this when we have a misstep, when we have a failure, how do we talk to ourselves?

If you were to hear my wife, who can testify to this, if you were to here to me, when I exercise or run or play sports myself, talk is almost criminal.


It’s brutal.

Its cruel.

All right, because I think that that’s how I’m going to motivate myself to perform better, but I would never talk that way to somebody else and so self-compassion is treat yourself with the same kindness that you would treat somebody else.

The other thing is, Just can’t be out here.


It’s like, okay, you’re all everybody in.

This room is very special.

But here’s the thing.

You’re not that special because if I have a regret about being unkind, which I do.

I not what I feel really terrible about.

Believe me.

I’m not the only one with that regret their plenty of people with that regret.


So your regrets a part of this condition.

And also do you regret fully defined?

You know, they don’t it’s part it’s a moment in your life.

And so the initial stage is to sort of is the treat yourself with that that that self-compassion and it’s and it’s liberating and what the research shows on self-compassion is that in contrast to sort of our popular Notions.


It doesn’t lead to complacency.

It doesn’t lead to complacency.

It actually leads to forward progress.

And that’s the first one of the first steps in dealing with processing.

Our regrets Dan.

Thank you so much.

Thank you.

Plain English with Derek Thompson is produced by Devon.



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