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The Four Regrets

four regrets

I recently read “Power Of Regret,” a brilliant book by Daniel Pink that opened up an entirely new perspective about regrets and what they mean for all of us. The book is based on extensive social research that Daniel Pink conducted, covering 16,000 respondents gathered from 105 countries. Individuals shared intimate details of their regrets, generating an incredible database of human longing and aspiration.

The research by Daniel Pink highlighted something insightful. Around the world, irrespective of nationalities and background, people kept expressing four core regrets.

Foundation Regrets – “If only I had done it differently.”

These are regrets about making choices that do not allow us to experience stability. Some of the typical foundational regrets people experience are:

  • Financial Regret – “If only I had saved more.”
  • Health Regret – “If only I had taken care of my health, exercised more, and eaten right.”
  • Effort Regret – “If only I had worked or studied harder.”

Boldness Regrets – “If only I had taken the chance.”

There are junctures and situations where we have a choice – to either play it safe or take a chance. Boldness regrets are those where, in hindsight, people rue not taking the chance.

  • “I wanted to start a business but never could muster the guts to start.”
  • “I wish I had spoken up more or asserted myself.”
  • “There was this girl I truly loved. I wish I had mustered the courage to ask her to marry me.”

Moral Regrets – “If only I had done the right thing.”

People encounter situations where they are faced with the choice of doing the right thing or otherwise. They do the wrong thing and then regret it later. Their conscience doesn’t allow them to forget that they did something wrong.

  • “I wish I had not bullied that kid at school.”
  • “If only I had not cheated on my partner.”
  • “If only I had not lied.”

Connection Regrets – “If only I had reached out.”

These are regrets that come from not making an effort to maintain a relationship. No matter what the relationship may be – children, siblings, cousins, friends, or colleagues – there is a relationship, and something happens to cause a break. People drift away, and when they have an opportunity to restore the relationship, they choose not to because it feels awkward or futile.

  • “If only I had shown more grace and reached out.”
  • “If only I had kept in touch.”

Regrets are uplifting in a paradoxical way. They point us to the good life. When we pay attention to our regrets in life, they will give us direction and clarity to lead a good life.

Daniel Pink says that these four types of regrets we all experience operate like the photographic negative of a good life. Because if we understand what people regret the most, we can understand all that we value- A life of stability, where we take a few chances, do the right thing, and have people with whom we are deeply connected.

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