03 Mar What are most People’s Biggest Regrets?

I find that most people you speak with have regrets about how their life has gone up to that point. Even if they are happy, there is always something they wish they would have said/done/accomplished etc. Given this knowledge wouldn’t it make sense to study what the biggest and most common regrets are and try to avoid them? I researched numerous articles and studies and have compiled the most common responses. Most of the studies focused on the elderly as they have lived most of their life and tend to reflect on what it is they wish they would have done. Some people might say just be happy and grateful with your life, but that is very narrow minded to me. We only live once and we are here for a short time, we should not spend it just getting by and not fully experiencing life. At least that is my opinion. Who are we to argue with those who have lived most of their lives and are telling us to do these things because we will regret them if we don’t? I have broken these things down into common categories:
  • Education, Career, and Expectations
  • Doing things that matter
  • Expressing Yourself
  • Relationships
  • Health and Happiness

I am going to go through each section and focus on the most common regrets I found across multiple articles/studies. I will also throw in my 2 cents on the subject as well as some personal regrets I already have.

Education, Career, Expectations:
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1. Living the life my parents or others wanted me to live instead of the one I wanted. 
This one was very common. One of the keys to happiness is doing what makes YOU happy, not someone else. Parents confuse wanting “whats best” for their children with wanting them to do what the parents deem best. There is nothing wrong with giving advice, but don’t act like you are always right. You’re not perfect and just because you’re a few decades older doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Especially if your answers are just to do it the way you did it, let your kid be their own person and love them no matter what.
2. Worrying about what others thought of me so much.
Another very common theme, people waste so much time on this. We worry about what friends, family, parents, and even strangers think. The problem is, you can’t possibly please everyone, and some people will never be pleased no matter what you do. You shouldn’t necessarily not care what anyone thinks, just don’t worry about it so much because you cannot control it. All you can control is your actions, if you are doing the right things and treating people right, that is all you can do. If people still say rude things about you and make ridiculous assumptions or spread rumors, there is not much you can do.
 
3. Not trying harder in school, realizing how great it is to spend all day learning. 
This definitely applies to me. I totally regret not getting more college credits done in high school, and trying harder for scholarships. I don’t know if I would have wanted to go to an Ivy league school, but I wish I would have applied myself and gave myself the opportunity because I know I was capable.
 
4. Career Regrets*not going after dream job*
Oh man, still kicking myself for this one. Why do we do this to ourselves? Most people have at least 40 working years, why spend it doing anything other than what you absolutely want to do??? As the saying goes, when you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life. I’m still trying to figure this one out, but this doesn’t just to apply to youngsters. Whatever career you want, if it’s even remotely possible, go for it. You will not regret trying, but you will regret it if you never try.
5. Not quitting a terrible job.
Falling in line with not going after your dream job, this one may be slightly worse. At least if you have a decent job you can still lead a happy life. More than likely if you are at a terrible job, it will have an adverse effect on your overall happiness. After all, you spend 40+ hours a week there. Do yourself a favor and find something, anything, else.
6. Financial Regrets-
Money can’t buy you happiness right? Depends. Recent studies have shown that at every income level making more money brought more happiness, and within countries the rich were happier than the poor. Other studies have said it plateaus at a certain amount ($75,000). I would like to believe it’s not the money, it’s how you live your life. To me, I think what could bring you happiness with more money is the happiness you could spread with that money. Starting charities, feeding the hungry, investing and creating new technology, etc. The “stuff” you are able to buy will just bring temporary excitement, but will not sustain you. That being said, this category wasn’t all about making money, but also what you did with it. For example, I did a lot of stupid things with money up until my early 20’s, and although I may still make a mistake now and  again, they are MUCH less frequent. I have big regrets of the new cars I purchased, and even all the money I spent on baseball cards as a kid.
 
Doing things that matter:
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1. “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”
This one was pretty much universal from men. I am trying my best to balance this with accomplishing the other goals I want in life. I have recently made a pretty big decision based on wanting to spend more time with my kids while they’re growing up. You can’t get that time back and I don’t want to miss out. There will always be time when they’re grown to still accomplish some things. Those who spend all their time at work end up realizing it wasn’t worth it. If you are always working what is the point of having money, big house, stuff, etc?
2. Spending more time with family-teaching kids to do more stuff.
Again, friends and family are very important when it comes to being happy. Do your best to spend as much time with them as you can. Teach your kids how to do things, they will always remember it.
3. Civic Duty: Community Regrets
Helping others brings a level of satisfaction not found in many other areas. People often regret not doing more for others. I want to find something I believe in and volunteer to do it. 
4. Learning a new language.
This is a big one for many people. It is also something that is proven to make us happier. Learning new skills and mastering skills brings us happiness. My wife and I are finally fixing this and learning Spanish this year. I regret not learning other skills like an instrument when I was younger, my mom tried to make me and I just refused.
5. Being scared to do things.
This could go any number of ways. I don’t think it means doing extremely dangerous things all the time, but not being afraid to experience life. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to try new things: food, activities, meeting people. I regret not trying harder at sports, I was afraid of failing and what people would think.
 
Express Yourself:
1. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
Don’t miss a chance to tell someone how you feel. Sometimes they will have had no idea and it will make the situation better. Don’t let people take advantage of you.
2. Romantic Regrets
This is another almost universal one. Unless you met “the one” very young, most people have “the one that got away” that they always regret. Don’t regret doing all you can not to lose someone if you think they are the one for you. At least tell them how you feel if they don’t know. Worst thing that can happen is they don’t feel the same way, and you end up in the same position. At least you wouldn’t have to dwell on what might have been.
3. Parenting Regrets
My wife and I already have some regrets and our oldest isn’t even 4 yet. Parenting is absolutely the hardest job there is. You are responsible for shaping a human being’s life, experiences, and way of thinking. You feel bad every time you lose your temper and yell, and question your methods of discipline. You wonder if you’re giving them too much or not enough. And of course, everyone has an opinion. Your own parents never are at a loss for words on this topic. The problem is no matter how many kids someone else has raised, they haven’t raised your kids. No children are the same even if they are related. Ultimately you have to figure out what works and what doesn’t and what you feel is right. My wife and I try to read as much as possible about parenting and take advice from our parents as well. The main thing is always let your kids know you love them and set a good example with your actions.
4. Standing up to Bullies in school and life
Many people listed this as a big regret. I think the opposite could be true as well, regretting being a bully. Anyway, I have bullied and been bullied and neither are a fun place to be. I regret being mean to other kids and I regret not standing up to others and letting them know it wasn’t ok. Most of it came from friends so it wasn’t as bad as if I didn’t have friends at all. I really feel bad for kids that have no friends and get picked on, everyone has something to offer if you give them a chance. This doesn’t just apply to children, we all have seen this as adults. Most of us think after high school the drama and cliques will be gone, only to see it reemerge on the job. Seriously people, stop gossiping and do your job. I find it very sad when grown adults have nothing better to do than bad mouth others behind their back. I have made a huge effort in my personal life to instead discuss ideas rather than people. I remember a quote that is one something my grandma made “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
5. Talking at a loved ones funeral.
I kind of blew this one already by not talking at my dads. But I did write something and had my brother read it. I should have done it myself, I think I would have been able to keep it together and if not, so what? It’s a funeral. I won’t make that mistake again. I encourage anyone who wants to say something to do it. If there is an afterlife, your loved one will appreciate seeing it.
6. This is my personal addition to the list: Don’t be a spoiled self centered brat as a teen. Don’t be so embarrassed of your parents. Its more embarrassing to have parents that don’t care. You may get a little crap for hugging your parents in front of your friends, but many of those kids will wish they had parents like yours.
 
Relationships:
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1. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
I’m in my twenties and I already have a few friends I haven’t talked to in 10 years. I really am going to try to be better at this. Technology has made it easier to avoid real interactions but we need to keep them up with our close friends.
2. Family Feuds: Relative Regrets
Very common theme for people. Some of us go years not talking to a family member, so long you forget why. Squash the beef, life’s too short.
3. From BFFs to Frenemies: Friendship Regrets
Similar theme, this is almost worse than just drifting apart. Going from best friend to an enemy just sucks. I imagine sometimes you really don’t want them as a friend anymore, but if it is over something petty, apologize and mend the friendship. You will regret it if you don’t.
4. Not being on the phone so much.
The only way to communicate outside of face to face used to be the phone or letters. So naturally the older generation is partial to both. However, it’s one thing to “catch up” with friends and family, and a whole other to spend countless hours talking about nothing of real importance. For some people that can be fun, but for many it is one sided and a waste of time. Personally, anything more than 15 minutes and I feel like I am wasting time. If you really want to spend time with the person meet them in person.
5. Gone on more trips with family/friends.
It’s very clear to me that great memories are made with experiences. Children for example, will always remember a great trip, but will forget by the next year that new toy they got for their birthday. My wife and I love to travel and we haven’t gone on a real vacation in a few years. We are currently saving for one to go on this year or early next year. I know it will give us more joy than any item we could buy.
6. Letting my marriage break down.
I hope to never experience this and I think if you have the attitude that marriage takes work and dedication, you probably won’t have to. If you thought you were going to get divorced, you wouldn’t get married in the first place. That being said, people drift apart and don’t do the things they need to do to work on their relationship. Just because so many people get divorced does not mean they won’t regret it later.
7. Not visiting a dying friend before he died.
My dad got sick in February the year he died. He made it until August. The whole time I knew there was a chance he wouldn’t be around much longer so I did my best to visit him once a week. However, it had been a little over a week before he actually died, and I regret that it had been that long. I am thankful I was able to see him so many times over those 6 months. I probably spent more time with him in those 6 months than the previous 6 years. If you know anyone who is sick, go see them at least once. You never know what could happen. Even those who are not sick, try not to go too long without seeing them.
8. Getting involved with the wrong group of friends
Some of us drift toward the wrong path. We may waste years of our life with the wrong group of people. Be smart about the people you surround yourself with. If you want to be a winner, surround yourself with winners.
9. Staying in a bad relationship
I’m not an advocate for divorce, but when it comes to an actual “bad” or destructive relationship, do not stay. It is dangerous mentally and possibly physically. Do whatever you have to do to get out. If that means taking your kids and fleeing the state if you are a woman who is abused than do it. Regardless of your fears it’s always worse to stay and subject yourself and/or your children to potential abuses.
Here a few bonus regrets I came up with:
Not treating everyone with respect in school. Be nice to everyone. Pretend karma is real.
Don’t get hung up on one person, there are many fish in the sea.
Date but don’t take it too seriously in high school and don’t choose a girl over your friends. 
 
Health and Happiness:
1. “I wish I had let myself be happier.”
Don’t take life so seriously, laugh and have fun. Do things that you enjoy, don’t be embarrassed if others think those things are lame.
2. Health Regrets
There a line between enjoying life and being excessive. Many of us cross it when it comes to things that effect our health. Food, Drugs, bad habits, etc. Over-indulgence may seem fun at the time but many people regret the behaviors that adversely effect their health. It could really hurt your later years. Whatever age you are, start living a more healthy life, what’s the worst case scenario? Of course you can still get sick, but I don’t understand the argument against doing things that give you a better shot at a higher quality of life because of what might happen.
Here a few tips:
Wear sunscreen, your skin will thank you.
Get in awesome shape at least once in your life just to say you did it and show your grand-kids pictures.
As a kid and young adult, enjoy taking naps. Naps are amazing. There’s a good chance you will have decades where napping is next to impossible. Unless you live in Spain. ¡Viva España!
Enjoy being young and having no real responsibility, it doesn’t last long!
3. Losing Your Religion: Spirituality Regrets
It is very common for older or dying people to suddenly get religious. It makes sense, at some point when you come to the realization that death is close, if you don’t believe in an afterlife you have to accept that this is it. It gives us peace to believe that there is something more. Many people regret not accepting this sooner. I struggle with this, I am certainly not a non-believer, but the whole big religion, church doctrine, go to Hell thing bothers me. But that discussion is for another day.
4. Not having enough confidence.
This could go so many ways. Confidence talking to people, taking a risk, standing up for yourself. I take it as just being confident in yourself overall. That whatever you do you are going to do it the best of your ability. We all have the ability to excel at something. If we can find what that is we will be much better off.
Not listening to that little voice more. Usually our conscience is correct. More often than not we regret not following our “gut”.
 
So what do we do with all this information? Well, consider where the information is coming from. This list is comprised from a bunch of studies of what older people say are the biggest regrets of their lives. They are the best people to ask about this as they have lived most of their lives and can reflect on what is truly important to them. So, if you want to avoid having big regrets and consequently be happier, pay close attention to this list.
Message to Claire:
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You are growing up fast. And stubborn. I have a feeling you’re going to be a CEO of some company in the future, but right now your stubbornness and leadership tendencies are very difficult. You can be really sweet though, when you are not pushing him down or taking his toys, you are hugging your brother or reading to him or showing him how to do something. I hope you learn some patience soon, but if not it’s probably myself I have to blame. I am certainly not the most patient person around. Hopefully, for your sake, I learn that trait and can be a better example for you. I hope I do a good job teaching you to follow your dreams and not have any regrets, but if not, you will always have this post!