Regret is bad for your health. There’s a part of your brain that lights up and your hormones are elevated and not in a good way. But, as my office mate just asked me, “How the hell do you not have regret? It’s a useless emotion but, still. We all have regret…” Indeed. In an article over a year old in Huffington Post, here, regret is exposed as a psychological pastime, with surprise, a gender divide. More men regret work decisions and more women regret relational decisions.
The study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, called 370 adult Americans at random and asked them to report one salient regret in life. Men were more likely to mention a work regret, whereas women were more likely to mention a regret related to love. Nevertheless, when all were combined, regrets involving romance were the most common (18 percent), followed by family (16 percent), education (1 percent), career (12 percent), finance (10 percent) and parenting (9 percent).
People who regretted events or decisions that they didn’t act on tended to hold onto the regret longer than individuals who acted on their choices (which they regretted), but went on to regret the outcomes, too.
It’s also interesting to note that women had more family regrets than men while men had more education regrets than women.
I was going to try to interpret the study but the math boggled my mind, so I’ll over-share instead:
I regret years of untreated anxious depression. I regret not keeping in touch with people who have been important to me. I regret putting energy into realationships that were unhealthy (that’s as much as I’m sharing about that). I regret overeating as I’m overeating. I regret thinking about how my kid needs a haircut as they tell me something important about their lives– in other words, I always regret not being present. I regret not directly speaking up in my marriage and possibly avoiding divorce. I regret buying high heels, always. I regret not calling my grandmother more. I regret the color I paint my nails, immediately. I regret not giving my son a ride that day last August. If I had, he wouldn’t have had an accident. You have any? In case you do, read on.
I put on my Ask Miri cloak and worked up a psychobabble special from Femamom –
Perhaps thinking about life as a series of questions with multiple answers is a potential antidote to regret…rather than framing regret as a negative, wrap her up in Mylar.
I take yoga. I giggled through the first year of mantras and affirmations and then, my cynicism gave way enough for a few messages to be heard. One message; that the life we live and the choices we make and yes, sometimes regret, is a gift (wrapped in recycled paper and tied with a shoelace) resonates with me.
But who can consistently remember to be thankful in the midst of missteps and miscalculations and regrets? I suggest going for a goal of half: half of the time collect regret like an avid stamp collector–steaming envelopes for hours, wallowing inside “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” Other days, toss envelopes with exotic stamps away without a second glance. Who cares if the stamp was a single edition of some queen who died in 1910?
You don’t want to regret that you have regret. That’s like worrying that you’re worrying.
Making peace with regret seems our only option, bad for our health, or not — because as far as I can tell, in my unofficial friendship poll, regrets are as common as warts and unlike warts, they can be instructive. Are regrets warning signs from our psyches to stay away or go forward? Are regrets the wise collective voice from the sum of our life experiences? Maybe, or maybe a regret is just a regret. Thoughts?