Posted by National Care Planning Council
In a study called the Legacy Project, about 1200 seniors were asked the question: What do older people regret when they look back over their lives? To the surprise of the interviewer, most of their answers didn’t have to do with one single event or embarrassing moment. Most of their answers were centered on the time-consuming emotion that plagues our society – worry.
In an article written about the project, Karl Pillemer said, “Worry is an enormous waste of your precious and limited lifetimes. By poisoning the present moment, you lose days, months, or years that you can never recover.”
This time of year, many young college graduates are facing life after school and a future they may not be very certain about. These young graduates’ elders are often reflecting back on the days when they had their entire lives ahead of them, and they still had so many unknown roads to choose. They loved and lost. They had wild nights and lonely years. They had triumphs, and they had regrets. And through all this, most of them have come to realize that whatever brought them to where they are now – choices, work, mistakes – there’s nothing that can turn back the clock. Somehow they made it all those years, and all that time they spent worrying wasn’t really worth it.
Worry is a sickness that plagues us from the moment we are first given responsibility until the day we die. As said by some of the older Americans in the Legacy Project, “Life is simply too short to spend it torturing yourself over outcomes that may never come to pass.” We can’t know exactly where we will be ten, even five years from this moment. But we have this moment, and spending it worrying will accomplish nothing, and it will change nothing.
Eighty-seven year old, James Huang, said “My life lesson is this: Turn yourself from frittering away the day worrying about what comes next and let everything else that you love and enjoy move in.” Reducing worry allows you to enjoy the moment and enjoying the moment will bring you greater happiness while eliminating many potential regrets.
As many troublesome things in life, worry does have a healthy side. It can push us to seek answers to problems and find solutions to serious issues in our lives. But in a world filled with stressors and anxiety, we can’t let worry cripple us. We only have one life to live. Somehow we’ll make it to the end, and if we don’t, at least we will have enjoyed the ride.
Focus on today. Think of what you can do now to fix a problem that might be causing you anxiety. Do what you can, prepare all you can, then let it go. Don’t worry about things you can’t change. After the fact, you will look back and realize that it would have happened whether you wasted time worrying or not. Accept that some things are out of your control and move on.
Some people spend so much time worrying that they lose valuable relationships and miss out on irreplaceable memories. We may not always have a lot of time to sit down with the elderly in our lives and ask them personally what their biggest regrets were, but we should and can listen to the voices of others much older and wiser than us. One day we will be sitting where they are now, and it will be better for us to have followed their advice.
As a people living in a world overflowing with problems, it’s easy for us to become consumed by the undesirable future we think we know is coming our way. We don’t really know, and we never will. So, as we were often told as children, ‘listen to your elders.’ Stop worrying, and let your life unfold. We never have nearly as much time as we think.