90% of adults have regrets. (Bauer, I., & Wrosch, C., 2011) Most of us have had at least one experience – good or bad – where we wish we could go back and do things a little differently.
But you carry the cross of past regrets that your younger self made to your final days. Even if you now know better and wish to do things differently, the only thing you can control is the here and now.
Here are 10 common regrets that old people face.
1) Leaping into a relationship too fast
A common regret for elderly people is jumping into a relationship too fast. Especially a relationship with two vastly different personalities.
For many elderly folks, they have noted that while people of opposite personalities bring enjoyment to their lives, it doesn’t always bode well as a long-lasting commitment. According to Peter Buston and Stephen T. Emlen of Cornell University, more people prefer having a partner that shares similar characteristics to them. So while it can be fun for a short while, in the long term, you generally tend to gravitate towards similar people to you.
2) Drifting apart from family or friends
Do you know a family member who’s estranged their child? These parents are likely to carry a sense of shame, stress, and isolation from their actions once they’re older.
This compounds to their children as well, even if it happened many years ago, since estrangement can be present in the back of a parent’s and kids’ minds for years like a parasite that doesn’t go away. Reconciliation and forgiveness can resolve the issue and negative feelings, but only if both parties reciprocate it.
3) Not expressing your emotions
Our biggest regrets aren’t our failed career paths or lack of financial foresight.
Many people’s biggest regrets tend to fall in a more emotional nature, like not being present with their family. For the elderly, it may be too late to show your genuine feelings of love and affection, especially if the opportunity has already passed.
4) Worrying too much about the past
Do you worry about the past often? While getting older might make it seem like you can slowly move on from these memories, for some, it ends up sticking for a long time.
Reminiscing and communicating about positive events of the past, according to the American Psychological Association, can improve an elderly person’s psychological well-being. If your past was dark and negative, the things they’d end up reminiscing about would also be as such.
5) Being untruthful far too long
Being untruthful doesn’t only mean lying to other people.
Elderly people can lie to themselves as well, justifying their thoughts into believing something that, at the core, doesn’t reflect their innermost state at all.
An elderly person may suppress their childhood dreams, for externally motivated reasons more often than not, and this could go on for ages without them realizing it. Some may fail to acknowledge this for life; but for others, the epiphany could happen too late in life to make an impactful difference.
6) Not taking care of your body
Are you in your 20s to 30s? That’s usually the age where you feel invincible – at least, physically.
Your body will naturally slow down after that time if it’s not cared for. However, spending your youth without keeping your diet, exercise, and sleep in mind can accelerate this aging process. Older adults who don’t sleep well, for instance, are more likely to suffer from mental health issues as well, like depression, attention, and memory problems. (Melinda Smith et al, 2020)
7) Not exploring your career
Maybe you thought about opening a business after school but shrugged it aside for fleeting pleasures. Or maybe your career path was so busy and well-paying, that you justify it even if you don’t have time for friends or family. Not exploring your career options, whether it’s because of a high payout or a lack of intrinsic self-worth, can leave many elderly wondering: “What If?”.
8) Not travelling
Do you enjoy looking back at pictures of yourself traveling to places from years back? Elderly people like it too – and while younger people can do it more often, the elderly lack the energy to do it more often than not.
For the open-minded elderly who lacked the opportunity to travel, regret can seep in later in life for having missed the opportunity to see the world. Travelling also has many benefits for your mental health: like improving your mental power, helping you stay calm, and widening your perspectives.
9) Working too hard
Overworking is one of the most universal regrets of people later in life.
Even highly influential people like Barack Obama, for example, expressed regret for not being there for his little girls according to his book “Being the Father I Never Had.” The common pattern these people share is the lack of time they gave towards the people they cared about, like their family and friends.
10) Not living your true self
Do you hide parts of yourself to fit in with people?
People-pleasing can cause regret later in life. The more successful your attempt to masking yourself is, the more lonely and isolated you feel.
However, criticizing yourself for thinking that way does more harm than good too. It’s best to talk to yourself and reflect calmly as if you were consoling a friend.
Do you have any regrets? Do you relate to any of the signs above?
Let us know in the comments section below. That’s all for now, Psych2Goers!
Emlen, S. and Buston, (2003) P. Cognitive processes underlying human mate choice: The relationship between self-perception and mate preference in Western society. Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Retrieved at https://www.pnas.org/content/100/15/8805.full#sec-2
Smith et al. (Oct 2020) Sleep Tips for Older Adults. Help Guide. Retrieved at https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/how-to-sleep-well-as-you-age.htm
WebMD Medical Reference (2020) How Travel Affects Mental Health. WebMD. Retrieved at https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/how-travel-affects-mental-health
Bauer, I., & Wrosch, C. (2011). Making Up for Lost Opportunities: The Protective Role of Downward Social Comparisons for Coping With Regrets Across Adulthood. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(2), 215–228. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167210393256
Pawlowski, A. Nov. 17, 2017. How to live life without major regrets: 8 lessons from older Americans. Retrieved at https://www.today.com/health/biggest-regrets-older-people-share-what-they-d-do-differently-t118918
Cemental, R. (nd) 9 Reasons Why Reminiscing Can Benefit Seniors. Retrieved at https://www.caringseniorservice.com/blog/9-reasons-why-reminiscing-can-benefit-seniors