50 Regrets All Too Common Among People Over 50

Hindsight really is 20/20.

woman looking sad outdoors, worst things about an empty nest

For many people, turning 50 is an exciting milestone—after all, you've had a half-century to build meaningful relationships, reach your career goals, and hopefully have some fun. However, for others, the regrets about the things they didn't do loom large.

A 2014 study from the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the National Council on Aging, United Healthcare, and USA Today, surveyed 1,000 adults 60 and older and found that only 17 percent were regret free. "When we get older, people do a life review," New York City psychologist Louis Primavera told USA Today at the time. "They begin to think, 'I shoulda done this or saved more money or spent more time with the kids.'"

But it's time to let go of those shouldas, couldas, and wouldas. After all, 50 is just the beginning. You have plenty of time to do all the things you dreamed of. If you want to make the most of your remaining years, read on to discover the most common regrets among people over 50.

Quitting school

Teacher stands in front of college students, closeup on hand, weird college classes

While the idea of sitting in a classroom taking tests may not appeal to many of us, missing out on educational opportunities is actually a major source of regret for many people later in life. According to research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 2008, education was the number one category in which study subjects cited regret, compared to career, romance, parenting, self-improvement, and leisure.

Not accomplishing more

older couple hiking, over 50 regrets

Although it's a subjective matter, many people find themselves regretting not achieving certain accomplishments as they age. "What troubles people in later life are the chances they didn't take or achievements they didn't accomplish," explains Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist, motivational speaker, and international author in Sarasota, Florida.

In fact, according to a 2018 study published in the journal Emotion, 72 percent of adults surveyed expressed regret over their perceived failure to live up to their own ideal self-image.

Not trying to land that dream job

50 compliments

Being turned down from a job never feels good. However, what's worse, in the long run, is never trying at all. According to a 2016 study from life insurance company Allianz, among a group of 3,000 Americans surveyed, 38 percent of study subjects admitted that they wished they had taken more career risks.

Working too much

silhouette of man in office working at desk as sun rises, married for money
NeagoneFo / Shutterstock

Sure, it may seem like working constantly will get you where you want to go in your career. But, when looking back at their lives, few people ever say, "I wish I had spent more Saturdays at the office."

As palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware writes on her blog, working too hard at the expense of a personal life is one of the most commonly-cited regrets among the dying. "All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence," she notes.

Not saving more

older woman shopping online, empty nest

It may not be fun or glamorous in the moment, but saving some extra cash might help you alleviate some regrets in your later years. It turns out, money issues, including not saving enough for retirement, are among the biggest regrets people have later in life. One 2019 study by Natixis Investment Managers found that the average 45-year-old wants to retire at 64, but has saved just $166,328. That means that in order to retire with just under $1 million, they'll need to save at least $42,000 a year.

Missing out on investment opportunities

divorce secrets

Not snagging Google stock when you had the chance? You're not alone. People tend to regret not making the most of their financial assets as they get older. "We often regret a chance not taken," says Colorado-based psychologist and life transitions expert Elisa Robyn, Ph.D.

Not taking vacations

habits to stay young {priorities after 50}

According to a 2014 study conducted by Glassdoor, the average American employee only takes about half of their allotted time off from work. And those who don't use their hard-earned vacation time to get true R&R feel similarly. When Priceline released their Work-Life Balance Report in 2018, they found that 41 percent of people reported that "obligation" trips (i.e. weddings, bachelor parties, baby showers, etc.) were among their top regrets when it came to how they used their paid time off.

Not traveling more

older woman on beach dating over 50

Travel may be an expensive habit, but those who stick close to home often find themselves regretting it later in life. In the Allianz survey, 56 percent of the respondents said they would have traveled more if they had to do things again. Want some travel inspiration? Add these 8 Exclusive Trips to Take With Friends to your itinerary.

Not being more adventurous

Bungee Jumping

An adventurous spirit is something that's inherent to some and not others. But many people wish they had figured out a way to tap into theirs. According to that Allianz study, not being more adventurous was cited as a regret by a quarter of survey participants.

Not being more spontaneous

Passport and plane tickets

Whether it's that time you turned down a last-minute Vegas vacation or your decision to not get up on stage at that concert, a lack of spontaneity is often a major regret down the line. "Would one expensive vacation really have been a bad idea?" asks Robyn.

Wasting time hating your looks

older man looking in mirror at hair loss, over 50 regrets

We only get one body in this lifetime, and while many people may be dissatisfied with theirs, make no mistake: You won't cherish all those years you spent hating your physical attributes when you're over 50.

Not appreciating your body

stop judging women over 40

It's not just the time you spent actively disliking your body that may come back to haunt you later on. Not appreciating the many things your body was able to do during your lifetime, from never attempting to run a 5K to never thinking you could pull off a bikini, are likely to be serious sources of regret in your older years.

Not eating healthier

older man and woman eating, long marriage tips

As we age, many people also feel disappointed about not taking better care of themselves, particularly in terms of their food choices. Considering that diet is directly responsible for approximately 678,000 deaths in the United States alone each year, it's safe to assume that many would opt for salads over cheeseburgers if they could do things over.

Not doing more to maintain your wellbeing

Doctor Checking Woman's Lungs

Your health is one of those things you can rarely get back once it's gone, and for most people, that leads to some serious regrets. According to a 1992 study published in the International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 13 percent of study subjects admitted regret about not taking better care of their health.

Spending too little time with your parents

grandparents and mom with grandchildren, things that annoy grandparents

We only get a certain number of years to spend with our parents. Sadly, many people take those familial bonds for granted while their moms and dads are still alive, only to regret it once they've passed. "Many people wonder later what else they might have learned from their parents," says Robyn.

Trying to live up to your parents' expectations

compliments women can't resist

Having a good relationship with your parents can be a wonderful thing. However, trying to live up to their expectations, no matter the personal cost, is a major source of regret in many people's lives. According to the Allianz study, a shocking 35 percent of respondents admitted they wished they had pursued more of the things they wanted to do, not just the ones expected of them.

"Do you ever wonder why some people have a mid-life crisis at 50?" asks Robyn. "[It's because] we have bent to the pressure of fitting into our family's or culture's expectations and wonder if it was worth it."

Forcing your opinions on your children

man and son sitting outdoors, over 50 regrets

On the other side of that coin, if you want to avoid regret in later life, now's the time to make better choices as a parent. Trying to get your kids to live the lives you want for them, instead of the ones that make them happy, is sure to haunt you in the long run.

Being inattentive to your kids

mom and dad sitting on a white couch playing with cell phones in front of their young daughter, prepare children for divorce

Just because you're physically present with your kids doesn't mean you're emotionally there. All those soccer games spent on your phone or movie nights preoccupied with work tend to wind up on people's lists of regrets after 50.

Ending relationships with people you loved

interracial couple fighting things you should never say in an argument with your spouse

Relationships don't always work out, and it's rarely easy on either party involved. Unfortunately for many people who break up with someone they still care about, this regret follows them into their later years. Those "what ifs" are pretty hard to shake, especially if the breakup was due to circumstance and not a lack of love.

Not being more romantic

older male couple, over 50 regrets

Relationships end for a variety of reasons, but few people will tell you that they wished they had been less romantic after all is said and done. In fact, skipping those little chances to show someone how special they are to you with a romantic gesture is often a major regret later in life.

Letting friendships fizzle out

Two older women have drinks and read book together, one wears a hat indoors, long marriage tips

With work, family commitments, and those futile attempts to find time to sleep, it's no wonder we have so little time for social interactions as we get older. However, try to maintain those friendships while you can, or you're likely to regret missing out.

"It takes time for many people to realize how vital our friends are to our wellbeing," explains Robyn. "When we face a life crisis or want to celebrate something wonderful, it is our friends who gather around us. Our long-term friends who know us well and share our history matter more as we age."

Not asking that person out

disappointed on date man woman

Wondering about something that could've changed the course of your life is not abnormal for folks over 50. Decades later, you may find yourself thinking about what would have happened if you had been brave enough to ask that cute classmate out in high school

Letting the passion die

older couple fighting in bed men's health concerns over 40

Few relationships can indefinitely maintain the passion they had in their first weeks or months, but that ends up leading to some serious regrets. According to 2012 research out of Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, 18.1 percent of study subjects cited romantic relationships as the biggest source of regret.

Not telling people you love them

older couple walking outdoors, long marriage tips

If you're eager to live a regret-free life, there's one easy way to work toward that goal: Tell people you love them. Whether it's a friend, a romantic partner, or your parents, neglecting to tell people that you love them is often a major regret later on in life.

Being an inattentive partner

upset older woman, over 50 regrets

When you're in your 60s, 70s, and 80s, it's unlikely that you'll look back fondly on those nights you spent toiling away at work while your partner tried to connect with you. "We cannot turn back the clock and build better relationships," says Robyn.

Getting divorced

Divorce Decree for Divorce Preparation, essential dating tips for men over 40

Divorce can be the best choice for a couple, but it can also be a source of regret later if it's too hasty or too hostile. In one 2016 survey by Avvo, 27 percent of women polled admitted to regretting their divorces, while 39 percent of men said the same.

Or staying in a bad marriage

Fighting Couple Having an Argument Lies Ex-Spouses

While giving up on your marriage too quickly may be a regret for some, many others find themselves wishing they'd left a bad relationship sooner. Licensed marriage and family therapist Elisabeth Goldberg, who's based in New York City,  says that, among her patients, "staying in a bad marriage is the number one regret of people over 50."

And while many couples say they stay married for their children, Goldberg cautions against doing so. "Children of divorce often say they wish their parents separated sooner," she notes.

Missing out on the little moments

couple looking through photo album over coffee, things husband should notice

That time you went to that meeting instead of watching your daughter shine in her school play, or those nights you stayed in when your friends went out and had a blast? Don't be surprised if those land on your list of regrets in your later years.

"There is a reason we talk about bucket lists," says Robyn. "We want to build memories that we can savor and experiences that we shared with family or friends. Or perhaps just memories that remind us that we lived fully."

Not spending more time with your kids

dad reading a book to his young daughter, over 50 regrets

You've probably heard the old adage about parenting: The days are long, but the years are short. In many cases, one of the biggest regrets parents have is not spending more time bonding with their children when they had the chance.

"Many people regret spending too much time at work and not enough time with [their] children," says Robyn. "We often focus on providing or perhaps succeeding, but forget that our families will not be with us forever."

Not getting to know people better

older couples taking photo while drinking wine, over 50 regrets

Shyness is inherent for some of us. However, those fears holding us back from meeting new people and expanding our social circles can plague us later in life.

Holding onto grudges

older couple fighting, long marriage tips

Sure, it may feel good to protect yourself by holding onto a grudge after someone has wronged you, but odds are you'll live to regret it later. Few people go to their grave thinking, "I'm so glad I stayed angry at that person."

"We hold onto our own wounds and sorrows when we do not forgive," says Robyn. "Often we forget what we were even upset about, or realize that in the scheme of life, it was a minor hurt."

Not apologizing more

young girl hugging her mother, over 50 regrets

And when you've done something hurtful to another person, few things feel better than offering a heartfelt apology and having the other person accept. Unfortunately, those who miss out on these opportunities often live to regret it.

Being ungrateful

lesbian mothers with adopted child, prepare children for divorce

Although many people tend to take their parents or family members for granted in the early part of their lives, that feeling that you could have done more to express gratitude to someone you care about is a major source of regret later on.

Not doing more for others

people volunteering volunteer, over 50 regrets

A little altruism can go a long way when it comes to avoiding regret later in life. The results from the Allianz survey suggest that more than a fifth of people would prioritize volunteering if they had more time.

Worrying about other people's opinions

woman looking at outfit in mirror

It's only natural to care what other people think about you, but all those concerns about others' opinions are likely to fall into your regret category as you get older. Few people look back on their life and think, "I wish I had let other people's opinions factor into my decisions more."

Not standing up for others

workplace meeting, over 50 regrets

Most people can think back to a time when they missed an opportunity to stand up to a bully. And when that missed chance means someone else got hurt—whether that's emotional, mental, or physical pain—that regret may follow you for a lifetime.

Or not standing up for yourself

Older couple having an argument and fighting on the couch, over 50 regrets

Assertiveness is a skill that many people unfortunately learn too late in life. Failing to stand up for yourself and what you believe in often ends up being a major regret among those who lack confidence.

Setting aside your passions

woman painting, over 50 regrets

Not everyone can make a living doing the thing they love, and that's to be expected. However, that doesn't mean you won't regret it. According to Allianz's data, 39 percent of survey respondents admitted that they regretted not following their passion later in life.

Muting your real personality

older man wearing orange floral shirt, over 50 regrets
Shutterstock/Ranta Images

Your larger-than-life personality may not have a place at your buttoned-up office job, but hiding who you truly are to the people who care about you will rarely make you happy. Whether you're simply toning down who you really are or you're pretending to like or dislike things just to avoid ridicule, you're bound to regret it as you age.

Ignoring your instincts

non coffee energy boosters

That hunch you had about that so-called "friend?" That feeling you should have moved to a new city when you had the chance? For many people, the decision not to listen to those gut feelings comes back as a major regret later in life.

Taking life too seriously

phrases men over 40 should stop using

Taking your life too seriously rarely breeds the kind of happiness most people aspire to have in their lives. If you can't find it in your heart to have a sense of humor about even the biggest challenges you face in life, it might turn into a regret later on.

Prioritizing practicality over fun

Kind Older Man Wearing a Hat Healthy Man - old people jokes

Of course, bills need to be paid and food needs to be on the table. However, for many people looking back on their lives, always putting practicality first and fun second tends to be a serious regret.

Being unkind

man yelling into phone, over 50 regrets

Knowing that you made someone happy in their lifetime can make anyone feel good. Knowing that you were unkind to someone, and didn't take the steps necessary to fix it? That's a major source of regret for most people.

Not taking advantage of your youth

friends painting fingernails together, over 50 regrets

They say youth is wasted on the young, and that's undeniably true. While you may have thought you were uncool, unattractive, and not so great at 18, in your later years, it's highly likely you'll regret not appreciating that fast metabolism or the lack of responsibilities you had as a young adult.

Not being more present

older couple ignoring each other on couch using smartphone and tablet, over 50 regrets

Those hours you spent looking at your phone instead of being present? Don't be surprised if you wish you had that time back in your 50s and beyond.

Spending too much time worrying

old worried woman sitting on the couch, over 50 regrets

Anxiety and stress are unavoidable for many people, but it's unlikely that you'll hit your later years and wish you had spent more time worrying about things. According to a 2016 report by Liberty Mutual Insurance, approximately 40 percent of the population worries every single day, but few wish they had wasted more hours doing so.

Ignoring your personal happiness

sad, depressed, or tired man in his bed, over 50 regrets

Success is one goal, but it's not the only goal people should be working toward. If you're ignoring your own personal happiness in pursuit of success, or to make others happy, the odds are good that you'll regret that decision once you're over 50.

Acting your age

dressing well 50s

In our desire to be responsible adults, many of us wind up missing out on a lot of life's fun. And while it may be nice to have that white picket fence and nuclear family, never letting your inner child out to play is a serious source of regret for many people.

Not seeing someone before they died

Older Asian Man Lying in a Hospital Bed, over 50 regrets

While our busy lives often get in the way of spending time with the people we love, it's well worth doing so. Not seeing someone before their death is a major regret for many people, and sadly, one of the few that can't be remedied.

Not leaving a legacy

grandfather holding grandchild while grandmother looks on, things grandparents should never do

It's also hard to know what people will say about you when you're gone. Still, many people will admit that not considering their legacy was a serious oversight. Whether you wish you had had children, wish you had done more for the planet, or simply wish you had been kinder in life, the thought that people might have less-than-fond memories of you—or worse yet, no memories at all—can fill a person with regret. Luckily, at 50, you still have plenty of time to change your legacy for good. And if you want to start having a more fulfilling life, check out these 20 Top Tricks from Therapists on Finding Happiness

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