What will we most regret on our deathbed? Immediately after we have been humiliated or made a big blunder, most of us think we will regret it for the rest of our life. No so. The research is clear: we most regret those things we fail to do – not the things we actually do. In the long run, it matter little that we make a mess or mistake. Those things fade from memory. What haunts us and becomes a burden are the things we let slide: our procrastinations, our hesitations, our inability to take a leap of faith and following our dreams.
The research digs a little deeper and tells us we will most regret not living up to our ideal self rather than trying to be the self we think we should be. We are haunted more by not becoming the person we wanted to be than not becoming the person we were expected to be.
Each of us harbors aspirations for who we would like to become: being a loving person, changing the world for the better, following our talents and passions. This ideal self is the image we measure ourselves against. If we do not strive to realize this image, we will be disappointed with ourselves.
In contrast, are the messages from family and society that tell us who we should be. Most of assume we ought to be productive and responsible, live up to the social model of a perfect man or woman, become financially and socially successful. If we reject or fail to live up to these social demands, it is a relief to know we will probably have few regrets–as long as we have followed our ideal path.
What should we learn from these studies? If you want to live a full life with few regrets, pursue your higher self and inner calling and pay less attention to the passing demands of the world. Do not put your aspirations off until tomorrow.
The temporal pattern to the experience of regret.
The ideal road not taken: The self-discrepancies involved in people’s most enduring regrets.