First, what do we regret the most?
- You’re more likely to regret the things you didn’t do than the things you did. (The split is about 75/25.)
- Education was the biggest inducer of regret, followed by career, romance, parenting, the self, and leisure.
- You’re more likely to regret purchasing things. You’re more likely to regret not purchasing experiences.
And for the big picture: what do people regret the most before they die?
1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
2. “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”
3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
So what can you do to live a life without regret?
- First, stop worrying. You anticipate regret will be much more painful than it actually is. Studies show we consistently overestimate how regret affects us.
- Leaving options open is not the answer. Ironically, leaving options open makes you dwell on whether you should change your mind. Once the situation is no longer reversible, cognitive dissonance works to your advantage and you’re more likely to be at peace.
- As with anything related to happiness, perspective is most of the battle. Stop comparing your situation to a lofty, perfect one and compare it to something far worse that you could have opted for. In studies this is consistently associated with lower regret intensity.
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