Here is What You’ll Regret Most in Life, According to Science

Spoiler alert: It all relies on the company you keep.

Happy mature couple relaxing on beach watching the sunsetPhoto: Shutterstock

As the age-old cliché goes: On their deathbed, no one has ever said, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” Hindsight may be 20/20, but wouldn’t you like to know—ahead of time—what you will regret at the end of your life? A study by two professors of psychology could give us a surprising clue.

Professors Mike Morrison of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Neal Roese of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois, sent out a random-digit telephone survey to 370 American men and women. According to their results, relationship-based regrets outweigh those of education or career.

Eighteen per cent of respondents regretted a past romance and lost love, and 16 per cent had family-related regrets. Education (13 per cent), career (12 per cent), and finance (10 per cent) fell in the middle range, while parenting and health made up nine and six per cent, respectively.

That means a combined 43 per cent of regrets are tied to our relationships (including past romance, lost love, family, or parenting), while work-life regrets (such as education, career, and finance) make up 35 per cent, on average.

Surprised? Probably not. Relationships have loads of science-backed health perks, after all, such as reducing depression and heart disease. Plus, friends and family simply make us feel happier and more fulfilled. (Here are seven ways to make your relationship last.)

“People crave strong, stable social relationships and are unhappy when they lack them; regret embodies this principle,” the study’s authors write. (Uncover the most effective strategies for sorting out 10 common lover’s quarrels.)

Thankfully, there’s an easy solution to avoiding regret—no matter what it’s about. We can start by distinguishing the two types of regrets, according to things we did but now wish we hadn’t, and things we didn’t do but now wish we had. Although regrets about our actions are about as common as regrets about inaction, it’s harder to let go of regrets about inaction. Translation? Don’t be afraid to take more risks in love, work, and life!

Plus: Can Long Distance Relationships Really Work? What the Surprising Science Says

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