Life Regrets: Phenomenology, Conceptualization and Research



Regret is an unpleasant cognitive and emotional state. It appears as a consequence of mistakes (failures) in action, or of inaction on the way to achieve the goals. Philosophical, economic and psychological theories argue about the nature and causes of regret, one of the most frequent negative emotions. Successful coping with regret improves cognitive processes, but unsuccessful coping has a negative influence on motivation for directive action, resulting in life regrets and worse physical and mental health. The causes and context of experience of regret enable differences between regret on the one, and other negative emotions (disappointment, remorse, envy) on the other side. For this distinction, very important are the level of effort and feeling of responsibility. Descriptive studies show that the greatest regrets lie in the domains of education, career, romantic relationships, parenthood and self-concept, particularly if in some domains people perceived that they did not realize certain good opportunities. The level of regret depends on the subjective importance of the life domain, and on social and temporal comparisons. When a life review among older people results in regret, the intensity would be lower if they used lateral or downward comparisons. In self-regulation of regret, the role of internal control varies with age.


life review; regret; coping; responsibility; effort; disappointment; social comparison; self-regulation

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Print ISSN 1330-0288 | Online ISSN 1848-6096