What Do You Regret?
Author Mercedes Lackey once stated, “If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.” Yet, most of us have found ourselves saying them or silently thinking them at some point in our life. In many ways regret is an almost universal feeling or experience.
According to a poll cited in an article I recently read, between 35 and 65 percent of people have some regrets. That number seems surprisingly low to me when I consider the discussions I’ve had with clients or readers about their lives. I think most people experience regret at some time or another during their lifetime. While the type of regrets people experience vary greatly, according to the article by Amy Bellows, PhD, the single most common regret was not getting more education (even in well-educated populations). I conducted an informal survey through social media, and sure enough, this was the most common regret.
The author cited other common themes for regret, which include:
Work: Not choosing a different occupation or not pursuing meaningful employment;
Marriage: This category covers the whole gamut of regret ranging from wishing one had married earlier, later, to a different person, or not at all;
Family: People say they regret not getting along better with their parents, siblings, or children;
Aging: Regrets in this category ranged from brooding, suffering chronic emotional distress, or regularly making hasty decisions.
While regret gets a bad rap, it is not the terrible thing many people make it out to be. It can be a strong motivator in life to do things differently, to not experience more regret. It can also be a sign that a person has set goals for him- or herself, albeit ones that may never have been realized. It can also be a sign that we have learned something in our lives–the realization that we would have made different choices now that we have a better understanding.
The response to my informal online survey about regret was amazing. People shared their stories of deep wounds and realizations that they could have done things differently in their lives. Educational choices and not getting more education was the most common response. But, a close second to that was the choice of marriage partner. Someone openly admitted that he was not the best father to his children and another regretted not getting to know her father more. While the people and the stories differed, the sentiments were the same: we all experience regret at some time or another and, for the most part we move on having learned something about ourselves.
Perhaps the most telling regret was one that was shared in a personal message to me: “I regret that I didn’t dare to be myself.” I think most of us have felt that regret. Being true to ourselves can be one of the most health- and life-affirming things we can do. I hope that the person who shared this regret will be true to himself and that the rest of us find the courage to do the same.
I’d love to hear from you: what do you regret? Can you use the experience of regret to make change in your life?
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