Six years ago I was finishing my master’s thesis on consumer’s feeling of regret. Despite the fact that my point of view was purely commercial, I spend a good day or two reading both psychological and merely entertaining articles about regret. What do people regret the most? How do feelings of regret affect on people’s behaviour? How do people try to avoid feelings of regret?
I learned that regret actually has two time-dimensions. Normally one might think that people only regret things that have happened in the past. They look back to some particular moment in time and wish they would have chosen a different path. However, the feelings of regret can also have a forward looking orientation. You are able to travel decades forward in time, imagine yourself as an old person sitting in a retirement home and looking back your life. You can rewind your days, evaluate the decisions you have done and count how you have spent your days. First and foremost, you can ask yourself: “Did I live a life that I don’t have to regret?”
Feelings of regret intertwine with one’s values and happiness. Life without regrets is usually a life well spent, a happy life, a life lived according to one’s values and priorities. What are the things people usually regret? I think those things could be classified under three different themes.
A very common reason for regret is the lost time that should have been spent with your loved ones instead of working long hours. People regret a marriage that failed due to lack of trying. They regret not seeing their kids growing up or that they didn’t have time to fully enjoy the time with their spouse. Life happens. All too quickly. One day everyone of us wakes up knowing that there is not enough time anymore.
I have thought a lot about this topic while living abroad for the past years. I don’t want to regret not spending time with my nephew, grandparents, friends or family. For this reason, I decided to go back to Finland at least for a while.
Did not pursue their dreams
Many people end up living according to society’s, parents’ or their partner’s wishes and hopes. They are holding back, they settle with a life that doesn’t fully satisfy and are too afraid to break free from some learned norms. They are too scared to change jobs, start studying or chase their dreams and passions.
This is how I have been myself. I thought that I have no clear passion or talent, so I figured that it is better to choose a safe and secure path to a good life. When I started getting to know myself more, I realised that what is success for someone else, might not be for me. Here I am then, getting back to university at the age of thirty and taking some steps towards my next goal in life.
The first brave thing I did, was leaving my job and moving to Australia. That was something I did just for myself. Not because it was rational. Not because it looked good in the eyes of others. Living abroad was a distant dream for me, and just five years ago it felt almost impossible to achieve. Now I have lived three years outside my home country and I am still astonished how easy it actually was to move abroad. All the biggest obstacles were inside my head. And now it has come time for my next dream…. What could it be, maybe I will tell more later…
Did not live in the moment
Days of our lives pass by so easily. You get caught up with your daily routines, Netflix, chitchatting and the last but not the least, social media. When you have a constant urge to be present in several places at the same time, you end up being absent everywhere. You just exist, reacting to outer stimuli and performing your daily tasks like an autopilot, and never really focusing your actions mindfully anywhere. Days come and go, and suddenly you realise that another year has just passed. Sounds familiar?
Do I feel regret?
I can admit that there are situations that could have gone differently. I could have taken better care of my relationships, be braver, prioritise things better. However, I have learned from my mistakes and on the other hand, these decisions have taken me where I am now. I strongly believe that if I continue living the way I do now, I can be old, look back to my life and contently say: “Oh boy, my life, that has been damn good!”.
There is one common denominator in the biggest regrets: people tend to regret more things that they didn’t do than things that they did. This post might not have any clear point or message, except maybe this:” Live and let the life leave its mark on you! Go, do, achieve, be present, live! Make your time matter!”