Regrets — we're sure you've had a few. From losing the one that got away to picking the wrong career path, see how yours stack up against the most common causes of remorse reported in a new survey.
When you look back on your life, is there anything you wish you could change? Most of us would say yes — and we’re not alone in that sentiment, according to a new Northwestern University study that categorized and ranked people’s biggest life regrets. “Regrets help illuminate mistakes we have made and allow us to learn from them,” says study co-author Mike Morrison, a graduate student in the department of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “The sting of regret can motivate us to make positive changes in our lives.” Among the more fascinating findings: Twice as many women as men (44 per cent compared to 19) reported a love- or family-related regret; men were slightly more likely than women to have career or education-related remorse.
See what else survey participants reported regretting most — and how your do-over wish list stacks up.
Love Stinks: Romantic Regrets
If you stop and think about the stuff of sad love song lyrics — the one who got away, the one who broke your heart, and the one you should never have gotten involved with in the first place — you won’t be too surprised to learn that 18 per cent of people surveyed put a romantic relationship at the top of their regret list. Want to keep your current or next relationship from imploding? Learn how to fight fair. “Avoiding conflict can be the kiss of death in relationships, but don’t vent anger toward each other [either],” says Christine M. Allen, PhD, a psychologist and a life coach in New York City. “Instead, use awareness of hurt and anger to express more directly and constructively your needs and concerns.”
Family Feuds: Relative Regrets
Haven’t spoken to your sister since you lived under the same roof? The next most common type of regrets were family-related, which 16 per cent of people reported. Among the more prevalent issues were disagreements or arguments that got out of hand. “In many cases, people wished that they had resolved family issues sooner, if they’d been resolved at all,” says study co-author Neal Roese, a marketing professor at Northwestern University. It can be difficult to resolve conflicts with people we’re closest to, especially after a lot of time has passed. Consider family therapy if you can’t work things out on your own.
School of Hard Knocks: Education Regrets
Wish you’d cracked the books more in college or gotten your act together to apply to grad school? The survey found that 13 per cent of people had a school-related regret, such as not studying harder, not pursuing a different major in college, and not staying in school longer. Those with lower levels of education were more likely to have education regrets than those who went on to receive advanced degrees.
The Job That Got Away: Career Regrets
If you’ve ever turned down a job only to be plagued by “what-ifs” months or years later, you can relate to the 12 per cent of participants who reported a career-related regret. Many people reported feeling that they chose the wrong path. Interestingly, the more education participants had, the more likely they were to wish they had made a different career choice.
Money Changes Everything: Financial Regrets
Passed on a stock or investment deal that turned out to be lucrative? Sunk your life savings in a home only to watch its value take a nosedive? If you’re grappling with money mistakes — mentioned by 10 per cent of those surveyed — try these tips for managing stress in tough economic times.
Motherlode: Parenting Regrets
It’s not easy raising children, as admitted by the 9 per cent of survey participants who regretted something related to their kids. “Several people said they wished that they had spent more time with their children, and that they should have been more or less strict,” said Roese. Other common parental missteps: being too critical of a child’s behavior, not paying closer attention to schoolwork, and failing to recognize the signs of a serious problem, such as drug abuse or an eating disorder.
Making Yourself Sick: Health Regrets
Six per cent of people surveyed most regretted something about their health, such as not visiting the doctor more often, eating poorly, and not exercising. “Most of the people with health regrets had experienced significant health issues,” says Morrison. “They felt that such problems could have been prevented or would have been less serious if they’d taken better care of themselves.” Luckily, it’s never too late to make positive health changes, and even tiny tweaks — like these 50 little ways to be healthier — can have a huge impact on your overall well-being.
From BFFs to Frenemies: Friendship Regrets
Those with friendship regrets — about 4 per cent of those surveyed — often expressed remorse about letting a friendship fall by the wayside. As with family, many faded friendships resulted from a misunderstanding or disagreement, says Roese. If you’re feeling guilty about a forgotten friendship, pick up the phone or shoot off an email. Make concrete plans with that friend you keep swearing you’ll meet for lunch, or offer up a “let’s-bury-the-hatchet” apology to a long-lost pal. Chances are, your friend misses you too and is ready to rekindle the friendship.
Losing Your Religion: Spirituality Regrets
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 6 in 10 U.S. adults say that religion is very important in their lives. However, despite these relatively high numbers — or, maybe because of them — 3 per cent of those surveyed felt sorry about something spiritual. “Common issues included not going to church enough or making choices that people later felt were immoral and not in line with their religious beliefs,” says Morrison. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by spiritual guilt, try to reconnect with your faith in a positive way. Prayer and meditation help us relax, causing blood pressure to dip, heart rate to decrease, and muscle tension to ease up — all very healthy side effects, says Michael Stefanek, PhD, director of the Behavioral Research Center of the American Cancer Society.
Civic Duty: Community Regrets
Wish you’d gotten more involved in your child’s school’s PTA or the local food pantry? Then you’re among the 1.5 percent of respondents who regretted not volunteering more or being more outspoken about issues in their community. An added bonus: Reams of studies show that lending a hand is good for your mental and physical health. Looking for ways to play a more active role in your community? Consider canvassing your neighborhood for food bank donations or volunteering to cook and serve at your local soup kitchen.