The Most Common Regrets of Older People

It's a curious fact that, when we reach maturity, most of us experience certain regrets. What are they? Moreover, what can we do to avoid them?
The Most Common Regrets of Older People
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 01 May, 2023

Older people frequently regret missing out on certain opportunities. Indeed, as the poet, Fernando Pessoa once said: “My past is everything I failed to be”. He was referring to the kinds of psychological fractures that we tend to drag around with us for years. So, what are the most common regrets of older people?

When people reach old age, there are many factors they might regret. For instance, they often discover that they made innumerable spelling mistakes in the way they wrote their past. Moreover, they mishandled many events that, if dealt with differently, would’ve meant they reached their 70s and 80s feeling happier. With this in mind, maybe we should bear in mind the variables we need to take care of today so we don’t have regrets tomorrow.

“It is never too late to repent.”

-Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist)-

The most common regrets of older people

Regret is a damaging emotion. However, like most emotions, it fulfills a function. It invites us to put right what we’ve done wrong. But, the older we get, we realize that there are some things that are irreparable and we just have to accept them.

There are some really interesting studies on the subject of regret in old age. The University of Manitoba( Canada) claims that this emotional reality affects the quality of life and even the health of the individual. Therefore, it’s a dimension of great relevance to psychological well-being that shouldn’t be ignored.

For this reason, it’s useful to learn about the most common regrets of older people. In fact, they can act as a guide for us to achieve satisfaction in the future. So, here’s a list of nine of them.

You might like to read Happiness: What Makes Us Happy?

man thinking about what older adults regret
One thing older people regret is feeling the need to live up to other people’s expectations.

1. Not doing what they really wanted

Bronnie Ware is a hospice nurse who wrote the book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying (2019). In this work, she addressed the regrets frequently expressed by people who were close to dying. One thing they most regretted was living their lives according to the expectations of others.

In fact, believing that they hadn’t been brave enough to make certain decisions was a source of great discomfort for them. Indeed, it’s true that sometimes, our families and our environments condition our existence to the point of making us pursue objectives or choose options that we don’t want.

Fears are fences that prevent us from making contact with what we want. As we get older, we often regret not letting go of our fears.

2. Being more honest about their feelings

How many “I love yous” and “I’m sorrys” should we say but don’t? We should never fail to tell our loved ones that we love them. They’re important words. Moreover, when we don’t say them, we become bitter.

3. Not having spent more time on what really mattered

On a daily basis, we dedicate a great deal of time to automatic tasks. But, if we were to stop for a moment, we’d start to recognize what’s important and what isn’t. Is this what we’re prioritizing?

Populating our present with meaningful elements is essential for our well-being. To a great extent, our feelings of personal worth emanate from what we do with our time.

4. Worrying excessively and forgetting to live

Excessive worries limit our existence and take away our opportunities for growth. When we look closely, much of what worries us will never happen. By getting lost in these anguishing mental labyrinths, we show contempt for the beauty of the present.

Older people often regret that they allowed stress and worry to prevent them from having a more relaxed and focused life. The kind of life in which they could’ve appreciated everything that happened. For example, their children growing up.

5. Missing out on opportunities

Feelings of fear and insecurity close the door to opportunities that we later regret. It’s common to grieve for not being brave enough to say yes to certain jobs or loves that we let go of due to indecision. In this regard, a study conducted by the University of Tilburg (Netherlands) highlights how inaction or a lack of daring promotes painful regrets.

6. Not traveling enough

One extremely common thing that older adults regret is not traveling enough. That’s because spending much of our lives in the same place takes away new experiences, learning, and the integration of others’ perspectives.

In reality, nothing is as enriching for us as human beings as overcoming the borders of our daily environments, with the goal of getting to know other countries and cultures.

7. The failure to understand love

Some people spend a lifetime with the wrong person. Therefore, a common regret is not having chosen the right partner. Another frequent regret is not bringing certain relationships to an end early enough thus, depriving themselves of possible happiness.

Understanding the basis of healthy love is a competence closely associated with life satisfaction. If we don’t understand love properly, we feel we’ve failed.

8. Friends they should’ve taken care of

Another of the common regrets of older people is not having had more friends. That’s because our social lives and friendships have great emotional value. They’re figures with whom we laugh and learn. Moreover, they help relieve our stress and we make plans with them that feed our hopes and dreams.

Sadly, it’s common for people to reach advanced ages and regret not taking care of certain friendships or letting go of people they should’ve held on to.

9. Not taking care of their health

Reaching 70 or 80 years in good health is no easy task. As a rule, we suffer ailments that are the result of unhealthy lifestyles. For this reason, many people regret not having practiced more sports, eaten more healthily, or stopped smoking.

Neglecting a diet or having a sedentary lifestyle is often cause for regret, once people reach old age. It’s then that they notice their bodies more. In fact, they start to understand that many of their possibilities exist thanks to what their bodies can do.

You might be interested to read The Benefits of Ballet for Women Over 50

Senior couple sitting on a bench thinking what seniors regret
Taking care of our relationships allows us to reach old age with greater satisfaction.

If you don’t want to have regrets, be brave and take care of what you have

Do you want to reach old age without dragging your past memories along with you? If so, start by reviewing your present and how you feel right now. Any time is the right time to implement the kinds of measures that’ll prevent future regrets.

Next, we suggest some guidelines for getting older without regret.

  • Travel. Don’t be afraid to break with your routines.
  • Express what you feel for others.
  • Take care of your social and emotional ties.
  • Appreciate the magic of the little things in your daily life.
  • Encourage moments that offer you well-being and happiness.
  • Become aware of who deserves to be in your life and who doesn’t.
  • Have purposes that are in tune with your values and needs.
  • Invest time and effort in your dreams. Don’t allow yourself to be carried away by pressure from other people.
  • Better regulate your stress and worries so you can enjoy more of the here and now.

Finally, while it’s true that it won’t be easy to reach the autumn of your life without regretting anything, try and make your regrets as few as possible. Be brave. Don’t miss the boat. Take advantage of those situations that bring you closer to feelings of genuine satisfaction.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Matarazzo, O., Abbamonte, L., Greco, C., Pizzini, B., & Nigro, G. (2021). Regret and Other Emotions Related to Decision-Making: Antecedents, Appraisals, and Phenomenological Aspects. Frontiers in psychology12, 783248.
  • Newall, N. E., Chipperfield, J. G., Daniels, L. M., Hladkyj, S., & Perry, R. P. (2009). Regret in later life: exploring relationships between regret frequency, secondary interpretive control beliefs, and health in older individuals. International journal of aging & human development68(4), 261–288.
  • Zeelenberg, M., van de Bos, K., van Dijk, E., & Pieters, R. (2002). The inaction effect in the psychology of regret. Journal of personality and social psychology82(3), 314–327.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.