No one wants to go through life with a bunch of regrets. But, the truth of the matter is, we all have regrets. In fact, a 2016 study conducted by Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America found that one-third of Americans admit to regretting the major choices they made in their lives. Here are ten things people regret when they get older–along with some advice on how to avoid them.
10. Sweating the Small Stuff
According to Karl Pillemer, a professor of human development at Cornell University, one of the biggest regrets older Americans have is worrying.
“Over and over, as the 1,200 elders in our Cornell Legacy Project reflected on their lives, I heard versions of ‘I would have spent less time worrying’ and ‘I regret that I worried so much about everything,’ Pillemer wrote on the Q&A website Quora.
“Their advice on this issue is devastatingly simple and direct: Worry is an enormous waste of your precious and limited lifetime. They suggested training yourself to reduce or eliminate worrying as the single most positive step you can make toward greater happiness… A critically important strategy for regret reduction, according to the elders we interviewed, is increasing the time spent on concrete problem solving and drastically eliminating time spent worrying. One activity enhances life, whereas down the road the other is deeply regretted as a waste of our all-too-short time on Earth,” Pillemer added.
9. Not Taking Risks
Many times we don’t take risks because we’re afraid we’ll fail. But, sometimes the “what ifs”–that is, wondering what might have been if we’d taken that chance–can be worse than failing.
Redditor HappyHooligan1 regrets not taking chances. “I did none of those things… while wondering how life would have been different if I’d hadn’t buried myself in computer games and avoided human contact for so long,” the Reddit contributor wrote on the website.
HappyHooligan1 offers some advice as well: “Looking back, my advice based on lessons learned… Take chances…ask that girl or guy out. Don’t be afraid to fail.”
Redditor Bhruic also offers some very useful advice: “Don’t talk yourself out of doing things you want to do. Don’t let fear win. If you want to vacation in Europe, do it. If you want to talk to that hot girl/guy at the bar, do it. If you want to start your own business, do it (and do the research first). Getting to your 30s and having a string of regrets is going to haunt you.”
8. Not Following Your Dreams
Researchers from Cornell University surveyed the responses of hundreds of participants in six studies and found that 76 percent of them regretted not fulfilling their ideal self. “People are quicker to take steps to cope with failures to live up to their duties and responsibilities (ought-related regrets) than their failures to live up to their goals and aspirations (ideal-related regrets). As a consequence, ideal-related regrets are more likely to remain unresolved, leaving people more likely to regret not being all they could have been more than all they should have been,” the study reads.
Leadership executive coach and keynote speaker Lolly Daskal offers this advice: “Spend your time now working on the things you want to accomplish–or even try. Build a business, cultivate a great career, build a family, run a marathon. The greatest success lies in living your life in your own way.”
7. Not Traveling
A survey conducted by Censuswide and British Airways found that baby boomers often regretted not traveling more when they were young. “Based on my studies, I can almost guarantee you one thing: If you don’t do it now, you will wish you had traveled more,” writes Pillemer. “To sum up what I learned in a sentence: When your traveling days are over, you will wish you had taken one more trip.”
Many of the respondents said they didn’t travel when they were young because they had other obligations, for example going to college or saving up to buy a home or car. Still, they did have this advice to offer: Traveling is rewarding, so when you have the chance to do it, just go. Spending money traveling is more important than spending money on other things. “If you have a choice between a kitchen remodel and a trip, I say take the trip,” one respondent told Pillemer.
6. Not Spending Time With Loved Ones
Journalist and broadcaster Emma Freud conducted a poll via Twitter that asked, “What is your biggest regret?” Here are some of the responses she received:
-“Not being with Mum at the end. She died 2 hrs after I left her, it haunts me still.”
-“Not calling my Dad the night before he suffered a fatal heart attack, just because I had only lost ½ lb and I didn’t want him to be disappointed.”
-“My cousin rang me on Christmas Eve and I really rushed the convo because I was cooking … she killed herself on Boxing Day.”
-“Not staying with my mum to the very end. I was afraid and needed to go home to my kids. She died overnight. I forever fear she was in fear. The hardest part was not the decision, but coping with the ‘what if’ afterwards.”
WHAT OTHERS AROUND THE WORLD HAD TO SAY:
-Redditor im4uqt regretted “not putting enough effort into keeping up friendships.”
-Some of the participants from Pillemer’s survey had children they were no longer in touch with and wished they’d tried harder to put their differences aside before it was too late. “The kinds of things that seemed worth saying ‘My way or the highway’ when you were 40 and they were 18 usually never seem worth it at 80,” Pillemer said. “Even if their relationships with their other children were great, the one with whom there was this irreparable rift still caused them a lot of remorse and anguish.” Their advice? Do whatever it takes to repair the broken relationship.
5. Bad Habits
You may be having fun right now, but heavy drinking, smoking, doing drugs and unhealthy eating will eventually catch up with you, as these Reddit contributors can tell you:
-“The only thing I truly regret is drinking too much alcohol for thirteen years. Waiting to find out if it kills me like it did my grandfather makes me feel sad.” -Redditor, bigsie
-“I love my current girlfriend, I really do. But the other day I went waaaaay back in my Facebook and was reading posts an old girlfriend would leave on my wall. She was the one I wanted to marry, and she felt the same. She is the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen and we were perfect together. I started touring with a band and got caught up in drugs and drinking. She found me overdosing one evening when she came to my house with a bad feeling. She broke up with me the next day because my addiction was breaking her heart. A few months later her brother died of an overdose after I had initially introduced him to some hard drugs in the previous years. I regret my old habits not because of what it did to me physically or emotionally, but because I lost her and may have lead to her losing her baby brother. I cried when I read her posts to me and still somehow think in my mind that someday we may cross paths and the spark will still be there.” -Redditor, feckyewyewfeckinfeck
-“Not taking excellent care of my teeth. I’ve spent enough for 2 new cars over the years in root canals, crowns and implants, not to mention all the pain and discomfort prior to affording all of the work. Brush your teeth. Often. Even though it sucks, you should also floss. Every day. Go to your semi-annual cleanings. This can all be avoided very easily. Two new Hyundais that I can’t drive, lend or sell, paid for in cash. But hey, I can eat and smile now.” -Redditor, Darth_Corleone
Many of the respondents in the Censuswide/British Airways survey also regretted not taking care of their bodies when they were young. Their advice? Pay attention to your health and make some lifestyle changes, or else face the miserable reality of bearing a chronic illness for the rest of your life.
4. Education Choices
Here, a few Redditors share their regrets when it comes to education:
-“I didn’t go to college, but I did go to a tech school for network engineering when I was 19. I was a huge lazy pot head, only paid enough attention to pass and didn’t seek out to do anything with it afterwards. I’m a technical recruiter now, but I wish I would have put in more effort, gone to a much better school and gotten a job in IT. I’m an introvert forced to be an extrovert with this job and it’s exhausting.” -Redditor, Callmebobbyorbooby
-“My biggest regret is not going to nursing school. I am 53 now and wish I would have pursued it. I worked at a hospital for 15 years as a tech and could have went and had some of it paid for through my job.” -Redditor, Monica61788
-“…not taking school seriously at all and picking totally the wrong subjects.” -Redditor, heavyxfriends
-“Not finishing college the first time around. I had a full ride scholarship and didn’t understand what a great thing that was. Ended up graduating 3 colleges and 13 years later, heavily into student loan debt.” -Redditor, corgandane
Sometimes we don’t realize the value of a good education when we’re young, and we make the mistake of taking it for granted. Still, it’s not the end of the world. In response to Freud’s Twitter poll, one participant said: “For me it used to be going into teaching instead of law. I righted my regret. Best choice ever. I was a wimp in my 20s. Changed for [the] better.”
3. Career Choices
In the study conducted by Allianz, 38 percent of respondents said they regretted when and where they worked. Many of those who Pillemer interviewed also expressed regret about saying no to job opportunities. They turned them down because they were either afraid to take a chance or comfortable in their current job.
Redditor Megaross advises others to never choose a job based solely on how much money you’ll make: “Not knowing what I wanted to do, I went after the money doing something I was naturally good at. I avoided the stuff I was interested in because I figured I could become one of the first people in my family with money, like I was given a great gift of intelligence and I should use it sort of thing. I never considered how much I would actually hate doing it for a living, and now I’m too qualified to go work in the fields I’m actually interested in. I can’t stand sitting behind a desk, working in an office staring at screens all day. It’s horrible. Seriously, never go after the money. It’s not worth it, I hate my job. I’m probably one of the few people with a business degree that makes good money, but I wish I’d studied engineering, or become a chef or a mechanic, something working with my hands.”
2. Money Choices
A recent survey conducted by financial website GOBankingRates sought to find out the biggest financial regrets of U.S. adults in 2017. More than 5,000 participants were asked to choose among the following reasons for their regrets: falling into debt, living above their means, paying for college, not saving enough money, not investing in the stock market, spending money on non-essentials, or something else. More than a third, or 36 percent, of respondents said that not saving enough money was their biggest financial regret.
The survey also found that the older you are, the more likely you are to regret not saving enough money. Thirty-eight percent of adults 45 and older said that was their biggest financial regret.
Redditor cyclingdadof3 also had regrets about not saving: “Not starting a savings account from the first day I started working. Even the smallest of savings adds up over time.”
1. Worrying About What Others Think
We’ve all been guilty of caring too much about what others think — especially during our childhood years. To be honest, many of us still struggle with that in our adult years. But, those who’ve learned to not be controlled by the opinions of others have some advice for the younger generation:
-“A bit cliche, but I’ve been telling my nieces this: realize that it doesn’t matter what other people think. It’s extremely hard to do (as humans are built to care what others think/feel) but extremely important for your happiness. I’ve noticed that this is linked to maturity and self-confidence as well. Younger people tend to have a harder time of this. Go after your own life and your own happiness regardless of what others think.” -Redditor takilla27
-“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” –Bernard M. Baruch
-Blogger Alden Tan offered these tips on how to care less about what others think of you in a blog post on TheFeelGoodLifestyle.com:
*Realize that life is short
*Everyone is flawed
*People are more focused on themselves than they are focused on you
*Be mindful of what’s happening in front of you instead of worrying about what others think of you
*Embrace uncertainty and don’t be afraid to make mistakes
What things are you doing, or not doing, that you think you’ll regret later in life? Do you have any advice on how to avoid regrets? Please share below.