Our lives are filled with gains and losses.
When we look back at the successes and failures of our lives, it is not uncommon to consider that, with different life choices, the outcomes may have resulted in greater happiness or a better/easier result.
That may or may not be true.
Certainly different choices would create different outcomes but regardless of the choices made, there would be both gains and losses.
Whether it was a major life choice such as the choice of a life partner, the choice of a certain type of work or career, the choice of lifestyle in a specific place — or a minor choice such as a purchase decision, there is always some degree of speculation about whether different choice would have resulted in a happier ending.
In a morning conversation with my neighbour at the lake, we reminisced about choices we had made in selecting our cottages and the gains and losses of cottage lifestyles.
There is the lake to enjoy as well as the relaxed cottage lifestyle, and the beautiful natural environment. However, there is also the hassle of managing two households, two fridges, and two gardens. Duplicates of everything need purchasing and, of course, there are two sets of property taxes, insurance, maintenance and utility costs.
Inevitably, when in the city we miss the cottage, and when at the cottage, we miss the benefits and options available in the city.
Chinese Philosophy and gains and losses
The Chinese philosophy of Yin-yang places emphasis on interconnectedness and complementarity.
A balance of good and evil or light and dark is considered to be part of everything.
The Yin-yang symbol shows these seemingly opposite forces in perfect balance.
Yin-yang provides a starting point for thinking deeply about how gains and losses are part of every life choice and every life decision through various developmental stages of childhood and adulthood.
Evaluating the gains and losses of decisions and choices made through life is part of making sense of the past. The very human tendency of looking back at life choices, sometimes to second guess oneself, is an aspect of growing older.
Second Guessing Life Decisions
Looking back over life choices is valuable.
It is delightful to remember the gains that came from successful decisions and from life choices that have brought happiness.
It makes me happy to recall some of my life successes. I’ve been fortunate to have a husband who has played a big part of my happiness for 46 plus years. As a parent and recently, a grand parent, I have the benefits of strong family relationships.
I was also fortunate to choose a career that I enjoyed. The work was challenging; it involved long hours and travel that often took me away from home but it brought many rewards.
These life decisions also involved losses.
Attaining career success meant sacrificing much family time. What I lost was quantity and quality time as a spouse and as a parent. Fortunately, my husband took up the parenting slack when our son was growing up.
But I missed important times — soccer tournaments, track meets, music recitals, and many family dinners. These things, I will never regain.
Looking back and taking stock of ‘losses’ can lead to negative self-judgement and regret over past decisions. Those feelings that I’ve missed out on things may or may not be accurate.
One never knows that these events would have meant ‘gains’. Gains from such events may never have happened regardless of the choice.
When I’ve talked with my family about my feelings about what I have missed, both my son and husband have given reassurance. They were always career cheerleaders for me.
They don’t feel harmed or short-changed but understand that I may have missed out on some good times. My husband also points out that sometimes there was little choice about the time I needed to give to the workplace.
We know the gains and losses that resulted from the choices made in the past. However, we don’t really know how — or if — life would have been better had we made different choices.
A Dangerous Trap
Second guessing how life could have been different is dangerous trap.
It’s best to let the past be the past — with all its gains and losses — and move forward with confidence in future possibilities.
I can’t recover the family time I missed during our son’s adolescence but I can make sure that I don’t miss important milestones and other family events — especially now that I’m a grandmother.
I don’t want to change the choice of both a city and cottage lifestyle as I enjoy aspects of both; I’ll live the with the downside as long as the upside brings happiness.
Regardless of what life choices you make, inevitably there will be gains and losses, successes and disappointments, ups and downs. Life is about hope and love — and disappointment and fear.
By acknowledging that you did your best in making decisions and choices, it is easier to accept and find balance without second guessing or falling into negative thought patterns.