We tend to waste a lot of time thinking and worrying about whether we should have done things differently in the past. Here are a few of our favorite "if onlys":
- If only I had not put my money in a stock or investment scheme recommended by my friend.
- If only I had kept my spending within my means.
- If only I had paid more attention to my kids when they were growing up.
- If only I had appreciated my spouse more over the years.
- If only I had become a teacher instead of a lawyer
- If only I had followed everyone's advice and not married so-and-so.
- If only I had followed my doctor's advice and lost weight ten, or even twenty, years ago.
- If only I had stayed more active and more physically fit instead of becoming nearly sedentary.
- If only I had read more books instead of watching so much time-wasting television.
- If only I had stopped being a Lakers fan.
You get the idea. You can make out your own list of "if onlys". Then if you wish, you can spend the rest of your life crying your eyes out about your past mistakes, indiscretions, shortcomings, bad habits, inattention to details, egregious sins, or whatever. By doing so, you can focus totally on your past and on your pitiful condition. Truth is, no one is going to pay much attention to you if you wallow in past miseries.
Economists have a concept called fixed costs. Fixed costs are costs we incurred in the past that we can no longer do anything about. That is why such costs are called fixed costs. They cannot be changed. Furthermore, Econ 110 teaches that you should ignore fixed costs. To the uninitiated, that advice sounds stupid. But the reason you should ignore fixed costs is that you cannot go back as if you had never incurred them.
Next lesson in Econ 110: Pay attention to variable costs. Variable costs are costs you can change, omit, vary (that is why they are called variable), fix. We don't necessarily want to totally forget yesterday, because some times we need to make amends, apologize, make up with people, ask forgiveness, and pay off debts we have incurred. But then we move on. Then we make a list of those things we can do today that will make our life better, such as the following:
- Pay attention to our families and our loved ones. These people are the most important people in our lives and we should treasure them.
- Become a Jazz fan instead of a Lakers fan. You will feel better, I promise.
- Start moving, walking, getting up and being active, even a little, and then a little more. You will feel better almost instantly and the more you move the better you'll feel.
- Pay attention to your food intake.
- Get a book and read it. You might like a Kindle or a Nook or other ebook reader. People who have them say that even though they like paper books better, they read more ebooks continually than they ever read paper books.
- Learn something new. Take a course at a junior college or a night school or a correspondence course. If you are unemployed, spend your time learning a new skill or sharpening up your old skills.
- Get your will, your estate, and your finances in order.
- Quit at least one egregious habit you have had for years. Just stop it.
Focusing on variable costs, or things we can change, is the most constructive and valuable thing we can do. We can clean up old messes, make amends where necessary, and then we won't have to fuss over those nasty fixed costs any more. Who knows, you might actually see some wisdom in the discipline of economics and become an economist.