What comes to mind when you think about your most important goals in life? Finding the perfect person to marry? Having children? Finding the best job or career path? When people make mistakes in pursuit of these goals, the pain of opportunities lost likely leads to regret. Regret is a complex negative emotion that involves a sense of sorrow at what might have been or wishing previous choices could be undone. Recent research1 looked at how intensely individuals—both students and a nationally representative sample—felt regret about specific situations (e.g., “My biggest regret is cheating on my husband,” “I regret quitting high school and not going on to college,” etc.). Individuals’ most upsetting and longer-lived regrets were those that focused on love rather than work, friendships, or education. Overall, regrets regarding relationships with others weigh more heavily than regrets involving work or school. The researchers argue that humans’ fundamental need to belong2 causes these interpersonal regrets to carry a heavier, more intense emotional burden than regrets that don’t involve close others.
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1Morrison, M., Epstude, K., & Roese, N. J. (2012). Life regrets and the need to belong. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 675-681. doi: 10.1177/1948550611435137
2Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.
Lindsey Rodriguez, M.A. – Science of Relationships articles
Lindsey’s interests include the development of a comprehensive, dyadic perspective for examining how problematic alcohol use and interpersonal relationship processes interact to influence various physical, emotional, and relational outcomes for individuals and their relationship partners.