When Americans Think of Regrets, Love Tops List
Over time, missed opportunities outweigh mistakes, study finds
By Jenifer GoodwinHealthDay Reporter
Researchers at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign surveyed 370 adults aged 19 to 103 about their regrets. Each was asked to describe, in detail, one decision they came to rue.
About 18 percent cited regrets involving romance. That was followed closely by regrets about family (16 percent), education (13 percent) and career (12 percent), finance (10 percent) and parenting (9 percent).
Women were more likely than men to have regrets about romantic or family relationships. About 44 percent of the regrets described by women were about relationship mistakes compared to 19 percent of men's.
"It speaks to something psychologists have known for a long time. Women are typically charged with the role of maintaining and preserving relationships, so when things do go wrong, it's very spontaneous for women to think, 'I should have done it some other way,'" said senior study author Neal Roese, a psychologist and professor of marketing at Northwestern. "It's how men and women are raised in this culture."
Men, on the other hand, were more likely to have regrets about work or education -- 34 percent compared to women's 26 percent, the study found.
Many of the regrets around work involved missed opportunities -- turning down a job instead of going for it, failing to take risks that could have led to a more fulfilling career. "There was a sense of frustration that a job doesn't reflect inner passion," Roese said of the study recently published online in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Those with less education were more likely to have education regrets. And those with more education were more likely to have career regrets.
"As people rise higher in our culture, there is a perception of greater opportunities," Roese said. "Paradoxically, the more opportunities you have, the more ways you can see how you could have gotten more . . . Opportunity fuels the regret experience."
So does this mean you should quit your desk job to realize your dream of working with horses or sailing the world?
Maybe, Roese said. In the survey, people were free to describe a short-term regret or a regret that lingered a lifetime.
Short-term regrets tended to be about things people did -- say, accidentally hitting "reply all" on an email, or forgetting to call Mom on Mother's Day.
But the long-lasting regrets were more often about things that people didn't do, such as never expressing their feelings to a loved one or taking a career risk.
"When you look to the recent past, you are more likely to kick yourself for blurting out something inappropriate at dinner or buying something you couldn't afford," he said. "When you look back at your own past to long ago, you are more likely to see things you should have or could have done. A lost love. A job you could have had."
Over time, people rationalize their actions, explaining away their mistakes, Roese pointed out. But when it comes to inaction, people forget the barriers that kept them from taking the action -- they only remember that they didn't try.
"When people reflect on the past, which is what regret does, we ruminate about the things that didn't go well but we don't savor the good times," said Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. "We are much more impacted by the negative stuff."
And though regret can be painful, a life without regret isn't only near impossible, it would lack a fundamental emotion that spurs people to avoid future mistakes.
"Regret is an essential part of the human experience," Roese said. "You should listen to the lessons your regrets tell you, which is quite often how you could have done things differently or how you could change things."
Everyone makes mistakes, Ferrari added. "It's how you get up, and how you rebound, that matters," he said. "Instead of letting regret dominate life, savor what you do have, and what did go right . . . We need to look more in terms of our strengths, and not our weaknesses."
This article is copied from MSN and I wanted to include it all.
At 25 I didn't have a lot of regrets. I had a marriage, a college degree, a baby on the way, and a decent life. I lived in the hippie days and I loved being fairly young and what I thought was in love.
At 35 I didn't have a lot of regrets. I had a marriage, 3 children, a husband I thought I loved, a home on the lake, some friends and a future with my family. My father had recently passed away but I was doing OK.
At 45 I had a ton of regrets. My life had imploded, my husband and the children were no longer living with me. I had drunk myself into ridiculous behavior. My mom had passed away. I lived with a young person who had not committed to me. My future--- well there wasn't one I could picture. And all of this terrible time had happened in the last 5 years.
At 55 the regrets had nearly killed me. They hung on like spider webs to a moth. The things I had done to my children no parent would want to look back on. The young person was with me still but fully committed and yet I still lived in the past and in the regrets. For some reason he wasn't enough to get me past the terrible times I had inflicted on those I loved.
At 65 I still haven't outlived the regrets. They have followed me and caused me to live in anguish and fear. They have inhibited my ability to feel joy and contentment. In short, they are my next goal. I must rid myself of them. I must.
I think it isn't uncommon for us as older people to have regrets. I think we need to constantly insert a leavening agent into the mix so they don't control our lives. For instance, I am in my 22nd year with my younger person. I love him to death and he shows his love for me in many ways. Though I don't feel I deserve it, my children show their love also. I feel like I fought my way through the fire to get to where I am. I wouldn't have had my current love without all that went before. I have done everything I could think of including years of therapy to rise above the bad behavior in my past. Regretting it isn't helping at this point. I wouldn't be who I am without having gone through the fire. So maybe my first order of business is to concentrate more on the accomplishments and less on the regrets. I have an ongoing love, a resolve never to lose myself again, and a will to continue to be a loving and kind person instead of a selfish and self-centered one.
Regrets seem to be a part of life. But learning what is important from them is also a part of life. That I will celebrate.