When Americans think of their biggest regrets, the No. 1 misgiving is romance--be it the dead-end relationship that continued far too long or the wonderful lover who got away.
HealthDay News reports that researchers at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign surveyed 370 adults ages 19 to 103 about their life's regrets, specifically things they wished they had done differently. They were asked to describe in detail one particular decision they deeply regretted.
The top six regrets involved these topics:
- Romance: 18 percent
- Family: 16 percent
- Education: 13 percent
- Career: 12 percent
- Finance: 10 percent
- Parenting: 9 percent
The biggest regret for women: When it comes to relationship regrets about romance or family, women are far more likely to harbor misgivings for their actions--specifically 44 percent for women, compared with 19 percent for men.
"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,'" senior study author Neal Roese, a psychologist and professor of marketing at Northwestern, told HealthDay News. "It's how men and women are raised in this culture."
The biggest regret for men: Men are more likely to have regrets about work or education--specifically 34 percent for men, compared with 26 percent for women.
Career regrets typically involve missed opportunities, either turning down a job or failing to take the necessary risks that could have led to a better or more fulfilling career. "There was a sense of frustration that a job doesn't reflect inner passion," Roese told HealthDay News.
People who have less education have more regrets about that, while those who have more education, tend to have regrets about their career.
"As people rise higher in our culture, there is a perception of greater opportunities," Roese explained to HealthDay News. "Paradoxically, the more opportunities you have, the more ways you can see how you could have gotten more...Opportunity fuels the regret experience."
The most long-lasting regrets people had were typically for things they did not do, such as risks they never took or feelings they never expressed to a loved one. Roese said it's typical in retrospect to rationalize our mistakes, but also to forget the barriers that led to the inaction.
But take heart. Regret is actually good for you! Regrets can be painful, but they can lead to positive action so future mistakes are avoided. "Regret is an essential part of the human experience," Roese told HealthDay News. "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."
The study findings were published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
--From the Editors at Netscape