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What’s Your Biggest Regret?

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What’s Your Biggest Regret?

“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.’’

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Read more: Children, Health, Love, Mental Wellness, Relationships

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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5:42PM PDT on Apr 16, 2013

The only real regret I may have(the others have been forgiven) is marrying someone simply because it "seemed like the right thing to do" vs. actually marrying the right person.

2:12AM PDT on Mar 30, 2013

Thanks interesting article

4:36AM PST on Jan 20, 2013

I don't have any,,,,

3:22PM PST on Jan 19, 2013

what is done is done ...just move on!

2:29AM PST on Jan 19, 2013

I regret I did not become began earlier.

10:41AM PST on Jan 18, 2013

Roger, what matters is what you're doing right now. It matters that you've come to the realization. You were raised one way and it took a long time to come to the realization you came to. I was in my 40's when it happened to me. I know what you're saying though. Move forward and keep doing the right thing.

10:35AM PST on Jan 18, 2013

My biggest regret that haunts me to this day is the fact that a man I met over 40 years ago and had a affair with was from another country and when he returned to Turkey I was too much of a coward to give up everything here and go with him. Too this day I still love him and regret that I am still married to a man I really didn't love. I am now 70 and will die living a lie and loving another person who I can't get out of my heart.

10:29PM PST on Jan 17, 2013

That I didn't become a vegetarian till I was 30 and was responsible for the appalling treatment and death of so very many animals.

5:34PM PDT on Aug 27, 2012

Getting married at 19 and not getting divorced in the first 2 or 3 months after I was married. Big mistake.

8:10PM PDT on Aug 26, 2012

This is my daily mantra: Look back but don't stare. The past cannot be changed. Regret is a sterile emotion. Go forward.

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