50 Regrets All Too Common Among People Over 50
Hindsight really is 20/20.
For many people, turning 50 is a happy milestone—after all, you’ve had a half-century to build meaningful relationships, reach your career goals, and hopefully have some fun. However, for many people, the regrets about the things they didn’t do loom large. According to a 2016 study from life insurance company Allianz, among a group of 3,000 Americans surveyed, 32 percent said they had a major life regret. If you want to make the most of your time on earth, read on to discover the most common regrets among people over 50. And for tips on making the best of the decades to come, discover these 50 Life Changes to Make After 50.
While the idea of sitting in a classroom taking tests when you could be doing anything else may not appeal to many of us, missing out on educational opportunities is actually a major source of regret for many people. In fact, according to research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 2008, education was the number one category in which study subjects cited regret.
Not Trying to Land That Dream Job
Being turned down from a job never feels good. However, what’s worse, in the long run, is never trying at all. According to Allianz’s data, 38 percent of study subjects admitted that they wished they had taken more career risks. And if you want to make the most of your career, discover the 20 Best Jobs if You’re Over 40.
Not Accomplishing More
Although accomplishment is a subjective measure, many people find themselves regretting what they perceive as accomplishments they missed out on.
“In my clinical experience, older people are more likely to regret what they’ve left undone rather than what they’ve done and wish they hadn’t,” explains Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW. “What troubles people in later life are the chances they didn’t take or achievements they didn’t accomplish.”
In fact, according to a 2018 study published in the journal Emotion, one of the most common regrets among the 3,000 individuals polled was a failure to live up to their own ideal self-image.
Working Too Much
While it may seem like working constantly will get you where you want to go in your career, when looking back at their lives, few people ever say, “I wish I had spent more Saturdays at the office.” According to palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware, working too hard at the expense of a personal life is one of the most commonly-cited regrets among the dying.
Not Saving More
While it may not be fun or glamorous in the moment, saving some extra cash might help you alleviate some regrets later in life. It turns out, money issues, including not saving enough for retirement, are among the biggest regrets 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. And if you want more money in the future, start with these 40 Easy Ways to Stretch Your Paycheck.
Missing Out on Investment Opportunities
Not snagging Google stock when you had the chance? It should come as little surprise that people regret not making the most of their financial assets. “We often regret a chance not taken,” says Robyn.
Not Traveling More
Travel may be an expensive habit, but those who stick close to home often find themselves regretting it later in life. In fact, 56 percent of the respondents in Allianz’s survey 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
While an adventurous spirit may be something that’s inherent to some people and not others, 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 Taking Vacations
According to a study conducted by Glassdoor, the average American employee only takes about half of his or her allotted time off from work. Unfortunately, those who tend to skip out on this much-needed R&R typically regret it. For more on why you should take advantage of your PTO (as if you needed convincing), This Is Why You Should Take All Of Your Vacation Days.
Not Being More Spontaneous
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.
Not Appreciating Your Body
It’s not just the time you spent actively disliking your body that may come back to haunt you later down the line. 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 later.
Not Eating Healthier
While many people regret spending so much time hating their bodies, many also feel disappointed about not taking better care of themselves, particularly in terms of their food choices, when they had the chance. 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
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. And if you want a roadmap for better health, start with these 20 Healthy Living Rules You Should Live By.
Wasting Time Hating Your Looks
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’ve hit 50.
Trying to Live Up to Your Parents’ Expectations
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 Allianz’s 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? [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,” says Robyn.
Spending Too Little Time With Your Parents
We only get a certain number of years to spend with our parents. Sadly, many people take those familial bonds for granted while their parents are still alive, living to regret that choice when they’ve passed. “Many people wonder later what else they might have learned from their parents,” says Robyn.
Forcing Your Opinions on Your Children
Speaking of familial relationships, 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. And if you want to be a better parent, start with these 33 Life Skills Every Parent Should Teach Their Kids.
Ending Relationships With People You Loved
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 later life. Those “what ifs” are pretty hard to shake, especially when it was circumstance and not a lack of love that precipitated your split.
Not Being More Romantic
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.
Being Inattentive to Your Kids
Just because you’re physically present with your kids doesn’t mean you’re emotionally there. And unfortunately, for many parents, all those times spent with your kids when you could have been more present number on that list of regrets by 50.
Letting Friendships Fizzle Out
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 psychologist and life transitions expert Elisa Robyn, Ph.D. “When we face a life crisis or want to celebrate something wonderful, it is our friends who gather around us. It is our long term friends who know us well and share our history who matter more as we age.”
Not Asking That Person Out
Those “what ifs” are never easy to deal with. Case in point: the number of people who still think back to what would have happened if they asked out that cute classmate in high school decades later.
Letting the Passion Die
Few relationships can indefinitely maintain the passion they had in their first weeks or months. Unfortunately, that ends up leading to some serious regrets. In fact, according to researchers at 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
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 in people’s lives.
Being an Inattentive Partner
When you’re in your 50s, it’s unlikely that you’ll look back fondly on those nights you spent looking at your phone or toiling away at work while your partner tried to connect with you. What you’re likely to regret, however, is not being more attentive to their needs. “We cannot turn back the clock and build better relationships,” says Robyn.
While many couples who get divorced are happy to do so at the time, divorce is still one of the biggest sources of regret later in life. In fact, 27 percent of female respondents in one 2016 survey by Avvo admitted to regretting their divorce, while 39 percent of male respondents said the same. And if you are ending your marriage, make sure you know the 40 Best Ways to Prepare for Divorce.
Or Staying in a Bad Relationship
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.
According to licensed marriage and family therapist Elisabeth Goldberg, “Staying in a bad marriage is the number one regret of people over 50” she’s treated. And while many couples hold onto their marriage for their children, Goldberg cautions against doing so. “Children of divorce often say they wish their parents separated sooner.”
Missing Out on the Little Moments
Those times you stayed at work instead of watching your kids shine in their soccer game, 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 by the time you’re 50.
“There is a reason we talk about bucket lists: 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,” says Robyn.
Not Spending More Time With Your Kids
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
Shyness may be unavoidable for some of us. However, for many people, those fears holding us back from meeting new people and expanding our social circles plague us later in life. And if you want to expand your social circle, start with these 50 Ways to Make New Friends After 50.
Holding Onto Grudges
While it may feel good to protect yourself by holding onto a grudge after someone has wronged you, 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 on to 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
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.
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. And if you want incentive to be more grateful, check out these 20 Science-Backed Benefits of Gratitude.
Not Being More Present
Those hours you spent looking at your phone instead of being present? Don’t be surprised if you wish you had that time back by the time you’re in your 50s.
Worrying About Other People’s Opinions
While it’s only natural to care what other people think about you, all those concerns about other people’s 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 Other People
Most people can think back to a time when they missed an opportunity to stand up to a bully. Unfortunately, when that missed chance means you let someone else get hurt, that regret may follow you for a lifetime.
Not Seeing Someone Before They Died
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.
Setting Aside Your Passions
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. And if you want to find your passion, start with the 40 Best Hobbies to Take Up in Your 40s.
Muting Your Real Personality
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 pretending to like or dislike things just to avoid ridicule, make no mistake: you’ll regret it.
Ignoring Your Instincts
That hunch you had about that stock? 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
Taking your life too seriously rarely breeds the kind of happiness most people want. If you can’t find it in your heart to have a sense of humor about your life, it might turn into a regret later on.
Prioritizing Practicality Over Fun
Of course, bills need to be paid, and it’s best if there’s food 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.
Not Standing Up For Yourself
Assertiveness is a skill that many people learn too late in life. And unfortunately, failing to stand up for yourself and what you believe in often ends up being a major regret among those who don’t have an assertive nature.
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 Doing More For Others
A little altruism can go a long way when it comes to avoiding regret later in life. In fact, the Allianz survey suggests that more than a fifth of people would prioritize volunteering if they had more time. And if you want to give back, check out the 17 Quirkiest Charities That Give Back in Creative Ways.
Not Taking Advantage of Your Youth
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, by the time you’re 50, it’s highly likely you’ll regret not appreciating that fast metabolism or your group of friends, and generally being so hard on yourself at the time.
Spending Too Much Time Worrying
While anxiety and stress are unavoidable for many people, it’s unlikely that you’ll hit 50 and wish you had spent more time worrying about things. According to one 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
Success is one goal, but it’s not the only goal people should aspire to. In fact, 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.
Acting Your Age
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 Leaving a Legacy
While it’s hard to know what people will say about you when you’re gone, 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 a more fulfilling life, check out these 20 Top Tricks from Therapists on Finding Happiness.
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