“Think of regret as like looking in the rear view mirror when you’re driving. To drive forward well, we often use the rear view mirror; we do need to look backwards. That doesn’t mean that we… only look in the rear view mirror….Regret works the same way. It’s useful in moving us forward. ”
–Janet Landman, Ph.D.
Author of “Regret: The Persistence of the Possible”
Regret is fundamentally human. We have the ability to compare the actual to the possible; this means we risk regret. Far from being irrational or a waste of time, regret has transformative powers that help us to learn and change in positive ways.
Janet Landman, Ph.D., argues that regret serves many purposes — warning, instruction, mobilization and ethical behavior. She says that we are likely to have more problems in the long run by ignoring regret rather than by trying to figure out what it can tell us.
Regret, like grief, she says, is transformed by “working it through, which is lingering with it long enough to experience it deeply [both] emotionally and intellectually.”
What do People Regret?
Polls have shown that between 35 and 65 percent of people have some regrets. Following are some common themes of various surveys:
Education: The single most common regret, even in fairly well educated samples, is that they had not gotten enough schooling.
Work: Many wish they had chosen a different occupation, and many women say they wish they had pursued meaningful employment outside the home.
Marriage: Regrets range from wishing one had married earlier, later or to a different person, or not at all.