Our Biggest Regret

Biggest Regret

When you look back at your life, what will be your biggest regret? What do you wish you had done differently?

These are the questions that, as part of a research project, Dr. Karl Pillemer asked more than 1,500 people over 65 years of age. Expecting to hear things like “affairs, failed businesses or broken marriages”, he was surprised that the biggest regret most of these elders had was “spending so much time worrying.”

Dr. Pillemer’s findings were eventually published in the bestselling book “30 Lessons for Living”, a heartfelt guide with more tried-and-true wisdom than most self-help books could ever offer.

Here are eight of the biggest regrets these elders shared and some advice on how you can avoid making their same mistake:

Life’s Biggest Regret

1) Spending too much time worrying

Worrying is a waste of your life energy. Each time you worry, cortisol is released into your system, negatively affecting your cardiovascular and immune system. “Life is so short. What you will regret is weeks or months of the kind of mindless, self-destructive ruminating worrying that people do,” many elders told Pillemer. “You’re going to wish you had that time back.”

What you can do instead: Just stop worrying so much, especially about things that have already happened, will never happen, or you have no control over. Instead, put your energy into finding a creative solution to the situation or problem you find yourself repeatedly worrying about. Love yourself by letting go of worry and fear.

2) Not expressing your feelings

Another big regret was not expressing their feelings or withholding their love from others. “Unless you believe in seances, you can’t go back and ask for forgiveness, apologize, express gratitude, or even get information from somebody who has died,” Pillager noted. 

What you can do instead: Don’t wait. Don’t hold back. Stop second-guessing yourself. Quit worrying about what others may think. Courageously say what’s on your heart now while the person is still around. You never know when is the last time you’re going to see someone. Let others know how they make you feel.

3) Not telling the truth

When these elders reflected back on their lives, not telling the truth or being deceitful towards others haunted them later in life. Lying about an affair, or dealing with life’s situations dishonestly, kept them secretly feeling guilty and ashamed.

What you can do instead: Tell the truth whenever you can, not just so that you can be in peace with yourself, but so that others can arrive at their own truth. Telling the truth can be a regret-avoidance strategy for later in life. 

4) Not dealing with past relationship mistakes

Many of the unhappiest elders Pillemer interviewed said they wished they had tried harder to reconcile with a loved one, asked for forgiveness, or tried to communicate more lovingly before a rift caused a relationship to end. This was a cause for great remorse, guilt, and anguish. 

What you can do instead:  You have the capacity and power to resolve a relationship conflict and heal a relationship — whether with a child, parent, sibling, colleague, or friend. Do whatever you can to repair that rift. Forgive yourself and the other person, and create opportunities for reconciliation. If you must end a relationship with someone, do it consciously from a place of compassion, appreciation, and love. 

5) Not taking enough chances

Most elders regretted not saying yes to new opportunities because they were either too comfortable with their current jobs, were afraid of what others would think, or were afraid to fail. At the end of your life, you’re more likely to regret not taking bigger chances only to be left wondering, “what would have happened if only I had…?”

What you can do instead:  Say yes to new opportunities in both your career and in your personal life. Try something new that invites you to expand, grow, and discover what it is you’re truly made of. Don’t be stuck in a box, especially if it is a box that never belonged to you.

6) Not choosing a life partner carefully

Choosing a life partner is one of the most important decisions a person can make. Looking back over their lives, many elders believed they were too lonely, impulsive, and settled for less because they didn’t give enough time to get to know the other person. A woman who had a failed marriage told him: It’s better not to marry than to marry the wrong person.

What you can do instead:  Get to know someone over time before committing to the relationship. Search your heart, be sure the person is the right fit for you, shares your values, and wants the same things you want. If what you desire is Soulmate love, start by becoming your own soulmate.

7) Not traveling enough

Many of the elders kept putting big trips and vacations off until retirement only to find they were now too weak or frail to travel. The world is filled with so many fascinating places and people, that even after traveling extensively, you’ll still wish you had taken just one more trip, Pillemer noted. 

What you can do instead:  Invest in yourself and travel. Explore new places, people, foods, and cultures. Whenever you’re able, just go. Travel somewhere new, exciting, and where you’ve always wanted to go — it doesn’t have to be a five-star trip. Each time you travel, you’ll have a new perspective of the world! You’ll come back a new person. 

8) Not taking care of your body

Many elders regretted not quitting smoking sooner, not exercising, or becoming overweight. But they became resigned in the end, “Who cares if I die sooner,?” they said. But Pillemer writes, “The problem in this day and age is you’re not going to die sooner; you’re going to be stuck with 10 or 20 years of chronic disease as modern medicine keeps you alive.”

What you can do instead: Take care of your body. After all, it’s the only one you have. If your lifestyle makes you sick, start making new lifestyle choices that promote physical, mental, and emotional health. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for a life of chronic diseases and unnecessary burden.

Learn to Live from your Heart

In summary, If you want to live a life of ‘no regrets,’ stop worrying, share your feelings, tell the truth, forgive, take more chances, experience more of life, and honor your body. 

Basically, learn how to live from your heart. Because in the end, the matters of the heart matter most. 

From my heart to yours,

Biggest Regret

Filed under Personal Mastery

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