All work and no play: New study shows that, in the long run, virtue is regretted more than vice

The older we get, the more we regret not having more fun, says new study in the September issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. Researchers from Columbia University show that choosing work over play leads to regrets about having missed out on the pleasures of life. Over time, these regrets intensify, while guilt about indulging tends to fade.

"While yielding to temptation can certainly be harmful, this article argues that overcontrol and excessive farsightedness ('hyperopia') can also have negative long-term consequences," say Ran Kivetz and Anat Keinan.

As with many mid-life (and quarter-life) crises, we tend to experience especially strong regret if pleasure is constantly delayed. According to the study one of the first to compare indulgence regret to self-control regret the greater temporal perspective gleaned with age helps us let go of guilt for, say, transgressions at a long-ago spring break. Instead, we begin to experience wistful feelings for delayed pleasures for not taking that around-the-world trip sooner or for constantly dieting and not eating dessert.

"In the short run, vice is regretted more than virtue, but in the long run virtue is regretted more," conclude the authors. "Consumers sometimes suffer from excessive farsightedness and future-biased preferences, consistently delaying pleasure and overweighing necessity and virtue in local decisions."

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Ran Kivetz and Anat Keinan. "Repenting Hyperopia: An Analysis of Self-Control Regrets" Journal of Consumer Research. September 2006.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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