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An everyman's primer to the control of regret

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  1. Introduction
  2. Thesis
  3. Review of literature
  4. Dialectic
  5. Conclusion

Regret is usually defined as an emotion experienced by humans when they are unhappy with events that are beyond their control. This paper deals with man's ability to control his feelings of regret. Because of the complexity and irrationality of the human brain people often experience feelings of regret whether or not the situation they are regretting is beyond their control. Hence it is only proper that for the scope of this paper regret is defined as the feeling evoked by regret, regardless of what causes it.
Humans have the ability to put regret to extremely good use, but more often than not regret is allowed to brood and fester, causing endless trouble. Regret is a powerful emotion that is encountered by people when they dislike the way that events are turning out, but don't feel that they can control the situation. As such regret is the ultimate concession to futility. Personal power is the most important personality trait to have in that it is more likely than any other single factor to bring happiness into its possessor's reach.
Henry Link emphasizes that "Personal security comes from habits and beliefs which make [a person] self-reliant under almost any circumstances." The ability to control regret and redirect its energy toward productive ends is an important habit that will immediately make a person more self-reliant. Control over oneself is in itself a form of happiness in that freedom from doubt and anxiety will make anyone's life more livable.

A sound tenet of stoic philosophy is that one cannot experience the pleasures and rewards of external influences without leaving oneself open to the pain caused by the unpredictability of those same influences. However, complete freedom from external influences is very difficult to achieve and is likely to have a detrimental effect on one's ability to function in ordered society. The solution? Rational thought must be invoked in order to be able to accept that external influences do have the ability to affect people, while at the same time having the strength to limit the scope of the effects of regret and to be able to turn negative experiences into positive ones.

[...] Most everyone has probably experienced some degree of misplaced regret at one time or another, be it something as petty as a shopper regretting that they alerted the check out clerk in a store that he had forgotten to ring in an item, or something as serious as a stock broker regretting that he turned down an offer for insider trading information. At first glance it appears that misplaced regret deserves no special attention. After all it is just regret, regardless of what it says about the moral character of the regretted. [...]


[...] Link, The Way to Security (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1951) [2]Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The House of Life 101, The One Hope, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993) [3]John Carroll, Guilt: The grey eminence behind character, history and culture (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985) [4]Associated Press, "Pilot has no regrets about dropping bomb," The Daily Free Press April [5]Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary by G.&C. Merriam Company (G.&C. Merriam Company, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1967), p [6]Janet Landman, Regret: The Persistence of the Possible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993) [7]Fathers and Sons, by Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). [...]


[...] While this is an interesting way of avoiding regret it is less obvious whether it is a viable way to live life; an argument either for or against the practicality and usefulness of objective rationalism is far beyond the scope of this paper. It will be left up to the reader to contemplate this philosophy and draw their own conclusions. Kant claims in his Metaphysics that reason is not a viable method for finding happiness. And, in fact, we find that the more a cultivated reason applies itself with deliberate purpose to the enjoyment of life and happiness, so much the more does the man fail of true satisfaction. [...]

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