“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
While Mark Twain was not a researcher, he did seem to know a little something about regret. As it turns out, his writing was rather prescient.
When surveyed about regrets, inaction weighed heavier on Americans over time than action, according to findings from researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The researchers conducted telephone surveys of 370 adult subjects across the United States. During those interviews, they asked them to describe one important regret in detail. The most common regret? Relationships topped the list, followed by regrets about work. The categories people cited most included Romance (18.1%), Family (15.9%), Education (13.1%), Career (12.2%), Finance (9.9%), and Parenting (9.0%).
Among the test subjects, women were more likely than men to have romance regrets, as were those not currently in a relationship. Men and those with higher education were more likely to have career oriented regrets, and education regrets were more likely to come from those less-educated.
The regretful feelings were most intense when people looked back upon life outcomes that they could have reversed by choosing a different path, especially those that were personally meaningful.
Understanding how our past choices shape our current emotions can provide us with valuable lessons. Our reflections may help us to make decisions more accurately aimed towards future happiness. Take a moment to notice one of your regrets. What would you change? Perhaps you might take a leap of faith on a relationship
, enroll in a course you’ve had your eye on, commit to a dream career path or simply catch those trade winds.