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I have a satisfying life and am generally happy

By Alex Yeo
but not a day goes by without an uncomfortable scene in which I screwed up flashing through my mind. Sometimes I replay painful conversations I've had with two friends who are now estranged. Why am I plagued by regrets?

You're "generally happy," yet you spend your life dwelling on the past--that doesn't really sync up, does it? Most of us cringe when we're ambushed by memories of that regrettable weekend in Cleveland or the bout of crying in the bathroom at the office party, but … every day? Regrets, we've had a few, but we suspect that when you reflect on the movie of your life, you're fast-forwarding through all the slapstick scenes and romantic banter to pause only on the distressing moments, which blows them completely out of proportion.

You can change the way you think about your past, says Wellesley professor Theran. Paradoxically, one way to do it is to stay with your feelings of discomfort as they arise. "Expose yourself mentally to the feelings of shame or embarrassment long enough to allow them to increase and then decrease normally," she says. "Of course you're inclined to avoid your shameful memories, but that's the way they maintain their power. Try to tell yourself that you don't have to be perfect and that we all do silly or embarrassing things."

And here's another reason to give yourself a break: Chances are good that what haunts you has already been forgotten on the other end. "We all tend to have a stronger memory for these kinds of things than other people do," says Theran.


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