40 Most Common Regrets People Have in Their 40s
Don't feel bad about having second thoughts.
In many ways, your 40s can be the best years of your life: You’ve established yourself in your career, made strong friendships, and have a pretty good sense of what you want out of life and how to get it. But it’s also a time of reflection—and with that comes regrets.
Looking back on your life, there’s around a 99 percent chance you’ll have at least some regrets about decisions you’ve made, paths not taken, or how you behaved when you were too young and foolish to know better. You’re not alone. Here are some of the most common regrets people in their 40s feel, with insight from experts in finance, wellness, psychology, and more—along with a few tips on how to overcome any residual feelings of regret.
Staying in a Job Too Long
For these exact budget and financial reasons, many people will stick with a job that they don’t particularly like or realize is not taking them anywhere they want to go professionally. They cling to the work out of concern that leaving it would be too risky or that they might end up with a worse job as a result. But once they finally leave, they realize they should have done it years before.
“After someone walks away from a job that was sucking the life out of them, they wonder why they didn’t do it sooner,” says Kelli Reese, a leadership and transition coach, and author of The Destiny Roadmap. “What’s happening when they’re resisting what they truly know in their heart is they’re scared of the outcome and paralyzed with fear.”
She says that “What ifs” play a huge part in the ability to decide. “When we don’t trust ourselves, we can end up staying stuck in what’s familiar,” she says. “Whether it’s a place we’re thriving or not. We don’t realize the place we remain can be far more challenging and uncomfortable than what we perceive to be ahead.” It’s never too late to chase your passion.
Psychologist Mindy Beth Lipson, who specializes in working with patients working through relationship troubles, parenting issues, and more, sees one of the most common regrets faced by those in their 40s is a concern about having wasted time in their earlier years. “When we are young, we may have a bucket list that seems endless but when we are in our 40s we may wonder why we are not billionaires or in a better career or never took that chance on ourselves when it came to our personal goals,” she says.
Lipson adds that these are “totally normal” thoughts that she hears from even the most successful people with whom she works.
“It is important to forgive yourself for the choices you made and if you are unhappy with an aspect of your life,” says Lipson. “Realizing that time is not endless is something we all have to face at different points of our life for various reasons. If you are in a position to examine yourself and in good health, then see what your wasted time taught you and how you can maximize its lesson in your life now for the positive.”
Not Taking Better Care of Your Body
“Often too much partying and neglecting our temple catches up with us in our 40s,” says Leanne and Ric Jacobs, also known as The Om Couple, self-improvement experts specializing in “the art of creating abundances.” “Chronic illness, prescription medication and sleep disorders tend to rise in adults over 40 due to lifestyle choices made in prior years and decades.”
Waiting to Save
“We are all told to save, save, save in our 20s, but we often feel like we have so much time ahead of us that we put off the saving suggestions,” according to the Jacobses. “Before we know it, we are in our 40s and there is too much month at the end of the money.”
Waiting to Get Healthy
By the time you are in your 40s, many of your health and lifestyle habits may be deeply ingrained, and by this age, you quickly realize how hard it is to break these habits—and how much you need to.
“We really don’t treat ourselves well until we start to feel the aches and pains, or finally are ready to take the weight off,” says Kaytlyn Sanders, a “self-care coach” for Beneficial Habits. “Just imagine the lost years of actually feeling better.”
Spending Too Much Time in Front of Screens
It’s the nature of modern life that we spend many hours a day in front of our computers, on our phones, and watching TVs and movies, but Sanders, who is also the author of 20 Habits to Decrease Your Social Media Use to Regain One Hour a Day, emphasizes that this is a habit we will come to regret when we get older and wonder how those hours could have been better spent.
“Whether this is binging on TV, consuming social media, or satiating boredom while eating in a restaurant, imagine all of these bits of time adding up to progress on a project or thinking up new ideas,” she says. “When you are in your 40s, you get stuck more in routines either with your family or work. Mix it up. Let your mind wander and daydream.”
Married for the Wrong Reasons
Marriage is a huge step that impacts your life from that moment forward, and for those reasons, people may enter into marriage for all variety of reasons and responding to different pressures or senses of responsibility. But while such a big decision can seem right at the time, over years it becomes clear that if you didn’t get married because it actually felt right to you, you will regret it.
“When you’re in your 20s, you have a lot of pressure to get married: from friends, family, and even the person you’re dating,” says David Bennett, a certified counselor, relationship expert and co-author of seven self-help books, who owns Double Trust Dating and Relationships with his twin brother. “Many people get married simply because it’s what’s expected. However, people in their 40s often know that getting married for the wrong reasons only leads to being separated a decade later. Instead, get married because you see yourself being with that person for the long-term, and get married on your timeline—not because of outside pressure.”
Didn’t Take More Risks
When life is going well, doing something different that might disrupt it or risk losing the things you like can keep you from reaching for more ambitious goals. But by the time you get older, questions about “What if…” are likely to weigh more heavily on your mind.
“Research suggests that when looking back, people regret missed opportunities far more than taking risks based on those opportunities and failing,” says Bennett. “Many men and women in their 40s look back and wish they would have taken more risks in multiple areas, including in dating, relationships, and business. Better to have tried and failed than to have never tried.”
Worried Too Much
“When you reach 40, you realize that most of the stress and worry of your youth never panned out,” says Bennett. “That girl or guy who rejected you? That one job that didn’t work out? The few months you had to crash at your parents’ house? The bill that didn’t get paid on time? The class you got a C in? Those weren’t worth the hours and days of worry, and being in your 40s provides perspective.”
While worrying too much can be a regret, when it comes to big spending, it is wise to exercise a bit of caution. Alayna Pehrson, who oversees financial blogs on credit repair and identity theft for BestCompany.com, points out that those who reach their 40s might feel regret if they’ve overextended themselves in borrowing a large sum. “Borrowing money from someone is also considered a risk for the very same reasons,” she says. “Over the years, the money adds up and can really leave you in a financial hole by the time you are 40.”
On the flip side, lending too much money or to the wrong person is a regret that is likely to bite you as you get older.
“Lending people money is a pretty obvious risk,” says Pehrson. “The person you lend money to may never repay you may pay you back later than expected or may keep asking you to lend them money over and over again (which can eventually lead to a depletion in your personal funds).”
Not Cherishing Time With Lost Loved Ones
When it comes down to it, time spent with the people we love is maybe the most important way we should be spending our days—yet it’s also one of the easiest things to postpone or forget about altogether. But regrets about not doing so more come into painful focus when we lose these people.
“Most people in their 40s have lost their grandparents or are nearing the time that they do,” says Sanders. “Looking back and thinking about the time we get to spend with them reminds us to tell our loved ones still here how much they matter.”
Not Letting Your Inner Child Play
“Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously and as adults who are parents or leaders in workplaces, we think we have to set an example,” says Sanders. “But those same people you are in front of need to see your playful side too. Loosen up and throw a little fun into the workday or home.”
Not Taking Breaks
“Taking time away from work is critical for maintaining balance as well as staying on top of your game,” says Sanders. “Schedule that next vacation now, even if it’s months away. Take an extra walk after lunch. Say no to a few family commitments that weren’t necessary.”
Didn’t Stop and Enjoy the Moment
Those who make a habit of being present in the moment report being happier and experiencing higher levels of long-term life satisfaction than those who are distracted by work or other worries. In your 40s, you realize how important this habit of presence is and may regret that you didn’t stop and smell the roses more throughout your life—whether on vacation, or simply running errands for the day.
Not Setting Aside Enough from a Paycheck
Holly Weidman, personal finance expert who runs the blog Mrs. Savvy Saver, points to a survey she conducted in which one of the most common regrets respondents had was not saving enough from their paychecks.
“If they could have gone back and talked to their self at 20 their advice was to ‘Start saving money from every paycheck. Even if it is $10 or $20,'” she says. “Set up automatic withdrawal from your checking account into a savings account or 401K. Having it automatic takes the stress off remembering that little detail each month and before you know it, you’ll have a nice chunk in your stash.”
Ignoring Your Credit Score
It’s easy to forget about your credit score as it doesn’t have a major impact on your day-to-day life—until you’re trying to make a big financial move like buying a car or home or even applying for a credit card, and it becomes clear that you should have given it more thought.
“It determines how much interest you will be charged over the life time of that loan, which can mean thousands of dollars of your money leaving your hands because of small changes you didn’t make,” says Weidman. “My best advice is to get one free credit report from each company. If you ask for one in January, one in April and one in August you’ll be able to spread it out over the year and then you can see if any changes need to made and how you are doing too, for free, which is my favorite word.”
Going Out to Eat Too Much
A nice meal out is one of life’s great joys, but when it becomes a daily habit, it not only makes it less special, but will fritter away your savings on forgettable, transitory things. Weidman points out that Americans spent $745.61 billion on food and drinks at restaurants in 2015.
“This is, of course, taking away from other interests and most people wish they could travel more,” she says. “So, consider whether you could cut out some meals out to save towards your dream vacation or maybe try meal planning like we did. We have saved over $4,500 a year just by using a meal planning system that works.”
Not Spending Time With Friends and Family
“Chasing money in our 20s and 30s can lead to grief build up (and issues in the tissues) in our 40s as we spend more time reflecting and contemplating on the past,” according to The Om Couple. “We can’t get back our time, and this lifetime is not a rehearsal. Spend time, not money.”
Bennett adds that research shows that people, men in particular, abandon friendships when they get married, and, when they reach middle age, they regret that they didn’t sustain those friendships.”So, nurture your friendships the same way you nurture your romantic relationships: they require time and effort,” he says.
Stayed in Touch More With Childhood Friends
Beyond your current friends, your friends from years ago and the slight amount of time you spent with them can become a big regret as you get older. Daily distractions can make it easy to forget about maintaining old connections.
“Now that family life is not as intense and busy as in the 30s, people realize that connections outside of immediate family are valuable, yet it is much more difficult to make new friends in the 40s,” says Milana Perepyolkina, author of Gypsy Energy Secrets: Turning a Bad Day Into a Good Day No Matter What Life Throws at You.
Not Building Connections With Extended Family
Like staying in touch with old friends, failing to deepen connections to extended family members is something many people do as they are so busy with everything else in their lives—until we realize it’s too late.
“While we focused on our children, our nephews and nieces are suddenly all grown up, our grandparents passed away and our parents are beginning to forget things,” says Perepyolkina. “If we kept the connection strong in our 30s, we would find a bigger circle of people who love and care about us in our 40s.”
Not Listening to Your Significant Other
Forget extended family—many people regret that they didn’t dedicate more time and focus to the single most important person in their life: their spouse or partner.
“We get so caught up with the busyness of life that sometimes we forget to stop and pay attention to those right in front of us,” says Beneficial Habits’ Sanders. “Take an evening out as an opportunity to ask them how they are doing, what they want to do within the next five years and how they feel without interjecting yourself.”
Not Taking Up Yoga Sooner
The health benefits of yoga come into stark relief in your 40s, as your body becomes less resilient than it once was, leading you to wish you’d done more to keep it healthy, flexible, and tight.
“People in their 40s are forced to take better care of their health,” says Perepyolkina. “Enrolling in a yoga class for the very first time is common. The benefits of yoga are recognized very quickly but it takes much more time and effort to reach the flexibility level that would have been effortless if started at an earlier age.”
Not Learning Another Language
Unless you grow up speaking another language or get excited about learning one in high school or college, it’s easy to never consider taking up another tongue until you’re in another country or find yourself speaking to a non-English speaker with whom you wish you were better equipped to communicate.
“People in their 40s have more time and money to travel,” Perepyolkina points out. “It would be nice to chat with a local shaman in Peru in Spanish or order a dessert in Paris in French.”
Not Learning to Play an Instrument
Like another language, playing an instrument is the kind of thing you don’t think about during your daily adult life, until the occasional moment where you really wished you knew how to play (whether trying to impress a date or simply make you feel more relaxed and fulfilled).
“If only our fingers in our 40s were as flexible as in our 30s,” says Perepyolkina. “We would pull up a guitar at a party and get all of the attention and admiration. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
Not Reading More
Another hobby that can nourish your mind and have long-term benefits is reading—something many people do less or stop doing altogether once they are out of college.
“Letting your mind drift into another world or learn a new subject keeps your mind active,” says Sanders. “Not only to expand your knowledge, but your vocabulary as well. This also keeps us away from the glow of our phones before bed.”
Not Communing With Nature
Speaking of letting your mind drift, studies have found that spending time in nature can be one of the best ways to create a sense of immediate calm as well as cultivate long-term happiness and well-being. But plenty of people fail to make a habit of it.
“Getting outdoors not only gives you a break, but can spark creativity and lower anxiety,” says Sanders. “Try going every Sunday either with the whole family or just yourself.”
Not Chasing Dreams
The Jacobses point out that a common regret is to wish you’d chased a dream you always had, but let slide because you had other obligations to worry about. They point out that often people realize “they settled for a career they don’t love, trading time for dollars. Simply put, we neglect our true gifts and values much too early in life for money and to please other people.”
Worrying About What People Think
“People realize they’ve spent so much time prior to their 40s worrying what people think and people pleasing instead of being authentically themselves,” add the Jacobses.
By the time you’re in your 40s, you realize that the opinions of others don’t have much relevance to your long-term life satisfaction and letting this shape your life decisions is a big mistake.
Not Trusting Your Instincts
This goes hand-in-hand with worrying about what others’ think, but is experienced by those who don’t have enough confidence in themselves and their own instincts. Once you are in your 40s, you realize that the only person who really knows what is right for you and your life is you, and failing to listen to what your gut is telling you because others are telling you something different leaves you with regrets that you didn’t trust yourself more throughout your life.
Took Life Too Seriously
In the moment, everything can seem like a big deal, but when you reach your 40s and have time to reflect on the many ups and downs you’ve experienced, you realize that the most useful attitude toward both fortune and misfortune is a bemused enjoyment—nothing is as bad as it seems in the moment, and letting yourself become consumed by a mistake or failure is simply wasting more of your precious time.
Didn’t Learn More About Money
“Many of my clients in their 40s have admitted that reading more or taking a personal finance course would have prevented them from making some unnecessary financial mistakes,” says Cornelius Davis, a financial coach and author of Want to Change Your Life? This is How You Do It. “For a long time they were just following the crowd when it came to money and now they know better they wish could go back and change some of the way they handled their finances.”
Didn’t Start Investing Sooner
As anyone who has gotten the rundown on how compounding interest works understands that the earlier they start investing, the better—which can lead to plenty of regret for those who realize later in life that they should have been socking away money all along.
“I work with a couple clients in their 40s who just started investing within the past five years,” says Davis. “Now that they understand how the market works they all say that they could have a lot more money socked away for retirement had they started investing as soon they started working full time.”
Failing to Budget
Budgeting is all about the future—ensuring you are spending enough to enjoy yourself and live well, but not so much that your cash supplies dry up before you retire. But those who neglect to budget will realize by their 40s that their lifestyle is unsustainable.
“By the time they are in their 40s, one thing that sticks out is that they didn’t follow a budget as well as they wanted to over the years,” says Pehrson. “Creating an effective budget and sticking to it can be a challenge, especially over the span of many years.”
Didn’t Travel More
Few things enrich your life more than exploring the world, and as you get into your 40s and responsibilities mount, you are likely to feel regret that you did not do more traveling in your younger days. Looking for things to do? Get started with the 40 Best Bucket List Experiences for People Over 40.
Dating the Wrong Kind of People
“I’ve heard this many times from clients,” says Reese of those saying “I wish I’d chosen different men.” “They’re blaming themselves for making consistently unhealthy choices in men. They knew deep inside their needs weren’t being met, but they were unable to walk away or change it without help.”
Marrying the Wrong Person
With divorce rates still around 50 percent, and many who separate in their 40s, a common regret for many is in the person they chose to spend their life with—as they realize they really weren’t as compatible as they seemed.
“Regardless of who filed [for divorce], it pretty much comes down to the fact that we were wrong about the ‘forever’ part,” says J. Hope Suis, a relationship specialist who runs the website Hope Boulevard. “For those who are still married, another 40% have misgivings about their choice for spouse. There is so much we learn about ourselves and life as we mature, and getting married young or too quickly often leads to feelings of general dissatisfaction.”
Failing to Find a Work/Life Balance
We spend much of our 20s and 30s working so that we can afford the life we want in our 40s and beyond—but that can come at the expense of actually living, especially in our 24-7 connected world of today.
“Gone are the days of a strict 9-to-5, I don’t think it even exists anymore,” says Kylie Carlson, founder of the Academy of Wedding & Event Planners, which has six virtual global campuses around the world. “Finding that elusive work/life, balance seems to be like the holy grail, but it can be achieved.”
She suggests “giving yourself permission to clock off, allowing yourself to switch off from social media and realizing that actually turning off your emails for at least an hour during your working day is going to make your more productive.”
Failing to Follow Your Heart
It’s often not until your 40s that you realize how important it is to do what you love.
“Too many times I see people settle because they don’t believe they can do anything else or don’t have the confidence to do what it is they really want to do,” says Carlson. “My advice is to always give it a go. At the end of the day what is the worst that can happen? Obviously, if it involves taking out huge bank loans or remortgaging your house then you need to think it through carefully—but many times, following your dreams and a career you really love can often be done alongside your day job so you have a chance to test it and see if it has legs.”
Regretting the Past
By your 40s, you realize that you’ve spent many hours of your life worrying about what you’ve done and regretting decisions you made—so knock it off! Go live your life and stop stressing about the past. Don’t dwell on the past, especially when there are so many great reasons to live in the here and now. You finally get to enjoy those 40 Simple Pleasures Only People Over 40 Understand.
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