The 6 Biggest Regrets In Life – Based on Research

Regret is one of the most powerful emotions that can drive us to change. But, because it evokes such strong feelings, it can be difficult to understand.

Most of us have things we regret in life. Maybe we made a bad decision, said something hurtful, or acted out of anger. Despite the cause, regret is one of the most painful emotions we can experience, and it can haunt us for years. In today’s post, we’ll explore the biggest regrets in life and why they occur. 

Are you ready to start? Great! Let’s get started! 

What are your biggest regrets in life and why?

Undeniably, there are many things that people regret. These include career choices, education, missed romantic opportunities (usually involving love affairs or missed chances) and decisions not to pursue dreams.

Based on analysis of 11 studies on regret, the top six biggest regrets in life in ascending order are related to:

(6) Leisure

(5) The Self

(4) Parenting

(3) Romance

(2) Career

(1) Education

This list proves that usually, your biggest regret will be related to where you see the biggest tangible missed opportunities for change and growth (Roese & Summerville, 2005).

“Stop fretting about past decisions. They have provided valuable wisdom. Go forward without fear or regret.” – Paul Martens
“Stop fretting about past decisions. They have provided valuable wisdom. Go forward without fear or regret.” – Paul Martens

1) Educational Regrets

According to research, regrets relating to education are the most frequent regrets in life. Maybe you didn’t focus as much on your studies as you should have, or you didn’t get the chance to learn about the things you’re most interested in. 

Whatever the reason, many people wish they had done more or made different academic choices. 

In fact, people of both genders tend to regret not getting more education and their educational choices such as institution and mayors chosen (choosing something that doesn’t align with desired career).

This regret may also include being too shy at school, not making use of all the different opportunities and dropping out of college (due to pregnancy or financial reasons).

2) Career and Finance Regrets

There are so many things to worry about in life, it’s no wonder that career and financial regrets feature high on the list of the biggest regrets in life. 

Do you ever find yourself wondering what could have been if you had made different choices in your career?

If you’re like most people, the answer is probably yes. In fact, career regret is one of the most common types of regrets that people have.

According to the Harris Poll conducted by CNBC, the number of millennials with career regrets is as high as 47%. 

Career regrets usually involve work or education choices, not starting a business, moving for either personal dreams (like joining the Peace Corps) or family related goals (like believing it was a good idea to follow a spouse).

After all, most of us work hard for years to build a successful career, and it can be heartbreaking when we realize we’ve made the wrong choice.

Some of us may never even experience professional success. 

And, when it comes to our finances, most of us want to make sure we’re doing everything possible to secure our future.

Others may not put much effort into financial planning.  

Regardless, even the best-laid plans can go awry, and we may find ourselves regretting some of the choices we’ve made along the way.

People of both genders regret not getting paid more for their work both in their current career, and when they were younger.

Some persons, particularly women, also regret the amount of time and resources they spent on raising children – at the expense of other personal and professional endeavors. 

Learn what are the biggest regrets in life
“We don’t have to be defined by the things we did or didn’t do in our past. Some people allow themselves to be controlled by regret. Maybe it’s a regret, maybe it’s not. It’s merely something that happened. Get over it.” – Pittacus Lore

3) Romantic Regrets

We’ve all been there. That one regretful decision made in the heat of the moment, when our emotions were running high.

Maybe we cheated on a loved one, or said something we wish we could take back. 

For most people, these occasional bouts of romantic regret are just a blip on the radar screen.

But for some, romantic regret can be absolutely crippling, leading to months or even years of emotional anguish and self-doubt.

That’s why romantic regrets are one of the biggest regrets in life.

Notably, there are even stark gender differences when it comes to regret. 

For instance, a study of over 24,000 participants suggests that men are more likely to regret missed sexual opportunities, whereas women tend to regret engaging in meaningless sex (Galperin et al., 2012).

Because of these differences, some argue that men are more comfortable with acting impulsively, whereas women are more likely to think things through.

Losing virginity to wrong person (24%)Being to shy to make a move (27%)
Cheating (23%)Not being more adventurous when young (23%)
Moving too fast (20%)Not being more adventurous when single (19%)
Social Regrets According To Gender
The biggest regrets in life
 “If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.” – William J. Clinton

4) Parenting Regrets

Many persons experience regrets relating to parenting. Maybe you feel like you’re too strict or not strict enough.

Some also regret not being as involved in their children’s education.

Others regret not having any children or having too many. 

Maybe you wish you had been more present when your child was young.

Conversely, some persons regret spending too much time on childrearing, especially when it led to losing touch with other desires, relationships and interests.

Other parenting regrets include less parenting involvement (moving too often or accepting a job that took them away from home).

Consider Watching This Video On ‘Your Biggest Regrets’ On YouTube

5) The Self Regrets

When it comes to our own well-being, most of us have a good idea of what we should and shouldn’t do.

But when it comes down to it, actually putting that knowledge into practice is a lot harder than it seems.

In fact, sometimes we do the complete opposite of what’s good for us without even realizing it. This can lead to feelings of guilt or regret later on.

The biggest self regrets for men and women include: 

  • Losing touch with old friends and family
  • Not taking care of their health
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Being unkind to those they love

A very common health regret include not exercising enough.

Many persons also regret not monitoring health through annual checkups and not taking better care of their teeth.

Several studies suggest that older people are more likely to express high levels of regret than younger people are.

Regret 5
“Don’t live your life regretting yesterday. Live your life so tomorrow you won’t regret today.” – Catherine Pulsife

6) Leisure Regrets

As the old saying goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” In today’s busy world, it’s all too easy to let hours and days slip away without truly enjoying oneself.

But before it’s too late, take a step back and ask yourself whether you’re living life to the fullest.

The biggest leisure regrets include:

  • Not taking vacations
  • Never learning another language
  • Not going on vacations
  • Failing to pursue a hobby or volunteer

Read also: 5 Simple steps to overcome regrets

Final words on the biggest regrets in life

For many people, their final thoughts are about the things they regret in life.

It’s important to make sure that you don’t end up on this list of regrets because it could be a huge negative impact on your life and those around you. 

Take some time now to review what might lead you down this path and think about how these feelings can be avoided in the future. 

Share with me below if there is anything we missed or wanted to know more about?

Related topics

How can I overcome regret?

We’ve all been there. That moment of regret after we’ve said or done something we wish we hadn’t. It can be a gut-wrenching feeling, and it can be hard to move on from it.

But you can overcome regret by accepting it, learning from it, and forgiving yourself. Here’s how.

being consumed by regrets will ruin your life
“If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.” – Mercedes Lackey

How can I change toxic habits?

Have you ever wished you could change a bad habit? Undeniably, it can be tough to break old patterns.

But with the right tools, you can make lasting change. In this post, I’ll discuss how to identify and overcome toxic habits.

We’ll also share tips for creating healthy new habits that will support your goals.

So, whether you’re looking to break a bad habit or establish a good one, read on for helpful advice. Read more


Andrew Galperin, Martie G. Haselton, David A. Frederick, Joshua Poore, William Hippel, David M. Buss, Gian C. Gonzaga. Sexual Regret: Evidence for Evolved Sex DifferencesArchives of Sexual Behavior, 2012; 42 (7): 1145 DOI: 10.1007/s10508-012-0019-3

Joseph R. Ferrari, Kelly L. Barnes, and Piers Steel (2009) Life Regrets by Avoidant and Arousal Procrastinators Why Put Off Today What You Will Regret Tomorrow?

Liu, J (2021) Almost half of older millennials wish they’d chosen a different career path – what they’d do differently. 

Roese, N. J., & Summerville, A. (2005). What we regret most… and why. Personality & social psychology bulletin31(9), 1273–1285. 

Saffrey C, Summerville A, Roese NJ. Praise for regret: People value regret above other negative emotions. Motiv Emot. 2008 Mar;32(1):46-54.

Towers A, Williams MN, Hill SR, Philipp MC, Flett R. What Makes for the Most Intense Regrets? Comparing the Effects of Several Theoretical Predictors of Regret Intensity. Front Psychol. 2016 Dec 15;7:1941. 

University of Texas at Austin. “Study examines potential evolutionary role of ‘sexual regret’ in human survival, reproduction.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 November 2013.  

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