On life

My top 5 biggest regrets

Yesterday I read a study which is circulating the internet, about people’s biggest regrets. The study was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science in 2011 and had a surprising finding.

The study lists the top 10 regrets people have about their lives, with romantic regrets being the most common type, especially among singles and women. The top 10 most described regrets were:

  1. Romance, lost love
  2. Family
  3. Education
  4. Career
  5. Finance
  6. Parenting
  7. Health
  8. Other
  9. Friends
  10. Spirituality

In addition, the study makes a distinction between regrets about actions and inactions, which both occurring equally often. However, regrets about inactions lasted longer. This basically means that people regretted the things they didn’t do much longer than the things they did do.

This study has got me thinking about my (relatively short) life and if there’s anything I regret that fits into one of those 10 categories. And also, whether my biggest regrets in life are mostly about the things I’ve done or the things I haven’t done. It’s better to think about it now than when it’s too late right? So here are my top 5 regrets (because 10 seems extreme and a little sad) using the categories used in the study.

1. Career (inaction)

My number one regret is that it has taken me this long to become career-focused. When I was in high school I was often called a ‘dreamer’ by my teachers (which my mother loved) and as I got older, my main focus was always the way I looked and boys. If there’s anything I regret it’s that, because I’m only now starting to realize how many years I’ve ‘wasted’ with all that crap. I could have spent all that time working, developing myself, discovering what I like and what I’m good at. Luckily I was good at studying, so I got several degrees, but I’ve realized that work experience is just as important (if not more!).

2. Family (inaction)

Without going in too much detail – a lot has been happening in my family in the last five years. The feeling I’ve been struggling with is that it took me so long to see it. I feel like if I had taken my head out of the sand earlier, we would have been spared a lot of sadness and heartache. No matter how many people tell me that this isn’t true, I can’t shake the feeling. I am the eldest of my three siblings and I feel responsible for them. I should have realized what was going on and intervened. It’s definitely something I regret.

3. Health (action)

I never really cared about my health until three years ago when I stopped eating meat. Now I am about 90% vegan. Since I discovered the horrors that happen in slaughterhouses I can’t believe it has taken me this long to give up meat. This regret is more about animal cruelty than ‘health’ per se, but the category is close enough. I really regret eating meat and dairy for so many years, while being completely oblivious to all the animal suffering behind that piece of meat or cheese. I really wish I’d known sooner and I am glad that more and more people are realizing that there’s no such thing as ‘humane’ slaughter or ‘happy meat’.

4. Spirituality (inaction)

I was surprised to see this topic in the list, but I do have a regret in this category. I have become more spiritual in the last years and it’s been eye-opening to me. I have struggled for years with questions like ‘why are we here’ and ‘where do we go’ – I even own books with similar titles. These questions started after my father died when I was 12 and I spent years internally struggling with them. I needed answers. I have since come across some great authors that have written on the topic (I can recommend some books to you if you want!) and make the journey seem a whole lot less complicated and more beautiful. These books are hugely therapeutic to me. They don’t necessarily provide answers, but they give me peace and that’s something I’ve been craving for years.

5. Finance (inaction)

There’s not a lot of things I am sure of in life, but the number one thing I’ve always known is that I wanted to make my own money. I’ve seen my mother struggle with it and from a young age I knew that I never wanted to worry about money. That meant being financially independent. I’m currently making my own money so I’ve come a long way, but I can’t save money. I can’t do it and I wish I could! I wish I’d saved a little more so I have something to fall back on. It would make me feel a little more secure.

So I guess most of my regrets have to do with ‘inactions’ as well (only 1 action I regret!). Luckily I still have lots of time to make up for them – and I will. Also, I realize that most of these inactions were necessary for me to become the person I am, so I don’t feel too bad about it. ‘Romance’ isn’t in my regret list for a reason. I hope this post inspires you to think about your top regrets. All is not lost – it’s better to realize it now than thirty or forty years down the road. Write them down, burn them or whatever, and do something about it. I know I will!

Emmelyn X

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