“I have a lot of regrets, but I’m not going to think of them as regrets,” once remarked Debbie Harry. We seem to live in a strongly self-affirming culture that balks at regret. “No regrets! Woohoo,” is the motto of many, yet, most of us have regrets. While I certainly lean toward the idea of classifying regrets as lessons, sometimes it just feels good to actually regret something. When you are able to embrace the regret, you become accountable and the lesson feels all the more credible.
Although we are often encouraged to hop on the no-regrets bandwagon, it looks like a lot of us continue to have our fair share of regrets lurking around. Recently, researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign surveyed 370 adults in the United States by telephone. They asked participants to recount one memorable regret–to describe what it was, how it happened, and if the regret was the because of something they did or didn’t do.
As reported in The New York Times, the results of the data show that the most common regret involved romance, with nearly one in five respondents telling a story of a missed love connection. The second most common regret involved family issues, with 16 percent of respondents expressing regret about a family squabble or having been unkind to a sibling as a child.
The study, to be published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science, showed the other top regrets involved education, career, money issues, parenting mistakes and health regrets.
“People did mention high school romances, the things that got away from them,’’ said Neal J. Roese, a psychologist and professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. “Some people said they should have studied something different in college, taken a different career path or followed their passions. Other people said they wished they’d worked less to spend time with children, a parenting regret we heard with some frequency.’’