HELP! I did something I regret!

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HELP! I did something I regret!

Dear Armchair Psychologist
Here's an ethical dilemma I have. My former roommate invited me to a lecture by a very successful illustrator at a museum. The illustrator did a painting as a demonstration and then offered it to anyone who had just had a birthday — this happened to be me. My friend got jealous that I received the painting, in part because he had invited me. Without him, I never would've gone. I thought about giving the painting to him, but I didn't. Many years later, he developed cancer, and I thought about giving it to him on his birthday, but I reasoned, "He may die in six months so what's the point of giving him the painting now?" He survived the cancer, went on to marry, have a family, and a successful career as an artist. Sadly, the cancer eventually returned and he passed away about five years ago. I still have the painting. What would you have done with the painting?
- Monet-in-limbo

Dear Monet-in-limbo,

I am very sorry for the loss of your friend. I can imagine that it's difficult to grapple with the "what-ifs" and gestures you might have been able to do while he was still alive, to show your friend that you cared. If it's of any solace, you are ethically the rightful owner, and you were given the painting fair and square. Your friend got jealous, but you didn't behave immorally, nor did you slight your friend.

But I suspect you already know this, which is why you steadfastly held on to the painting. Bequeathing the painting to something, or someone, meaningful may be a great way to honor your friend, but it could also serve as a quick band-aid fix for a deeper problem. It seems the real question may be why you feel compounded with guilt or regret? Perhaps you were unable to properly say goodbye to your dying friend? Maybe you lost touch with each other?

Losing loved ones is very difficult for most people, and so are the lingering questions. When my lovely and fun college friend unexpectedly died at the hands of an abusive boyfriend, I went through immense regret at not checking in with her more often to ensure her safety.

If you're lucky to live a long life, the ventral striatum (the region in your brain that houses regret) shows that if you're a healthy person, then the older you get the easier it is to let go of regrets. Younger people struggle more with regret aka "what-ifs" or "counterfactual thinking" because they have longer to live and a greater chance for the option of a better outcome. In this study that measured the emotional reactions of athletes at the Olympics, it was determined that Olympians who won Bronze medals were happier than those who won Silver medals. This is because "the most compelling counterfactual alternative for the silver medalist is winning the gold, whereas for the bronze medalist it is finishing without a medal." In other words, if the options for a better outcome are available, regret (or counterfactual thinking) is increased because the brain will deem it beneficial for learning and changing the outcome. It seems that you believe there may be a better outcome for this painting's fate and I suggest you explore this, including your feelings of regret or grief, with a qualified therapist no less.

- The Armchair Psychologist

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How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.


When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.


Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.


If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.