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Got Regret? The Top 10 American Regrets

Got Regret? The Top 10 American RegretsAmericans share a lot of the same regrets in life — lost love, family spats, missing a career or educational opportunity.

So says new research out of Northwestern University from a telephone survey conducted by researchers on 370 American adults. The researchers asked people to describe one regret in detail, with the rationale that whatever regret they described would be the one that is most memorable.

Regrets based on inaction were held on to longer over time, versus those based upon some action the person took.

So what are the top ten regrets held by Americans?

The Top 10 American Regrets

Here are the subjects that survey respondents most commonly described they held the greatest regrets about:

  1. Romance, lost love – 18.1%
  2. Family (e.g., family arguments) – 15.9%
  3. Education (e.g., missed educational opportunity) – 13.1%
  4. Career (e.g., missed career opportunity) – 12.2%
  5. Finance (e.g., money management, spending) – 9.9%
  6. Parenting (e.g., poor parenting, not spending enough time with children) – 9.0%
  7. Health (e.g., not maintaining healthy habits) – 6.3%
  8. Other – 5.6%
  9. Friends – 3.6%
  10. Spirituality – 2.3%

I think regret is a natural, human emotion that most of experience at one point or another. As rational beings, we can’t help but revisit past decisions or behaviors from time to time, thinking about what if we had done something differently.

It’s unhealthy to wallow in regret, though. You can overcome regretful feelings by looking at the decision in context — that is, what did you know and what were you feeling at the time. Because, after all, hindsight is 20/20 — we all can see things far differently (and often times more clearly) after the fact. But that’s not fair to what we were thinking and feeling in that moment.

What you can do with regret is to try and learn something from it. If you screwed up a past relationship, use that knowledge to make your current or next relationship better. For example, if you didn’t pay enough attention to your partner or listen to them, make a concerted effort to listen more attentively in your future or current relationship. If you didn’t pursue an educational opportunity, consider going back to school in the future — there’s no expiration on learning. And if you were part of a screwed up family relationship, consider making amends. Many things that may have been “unforgivable” at an earlier time in our lives can be forgiven later on, if only we were willing.

Read the full article: Americans Count Lost Love, Family Spats Among Common Regrets

?What are your greatest regrets?
What would you change if you could go back? What have you learned from your past regretful actions?

Got Regret? The Top 10 American Regrets

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Got Regret? The Top 10 American Regrets. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 24 Mar 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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