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Living With Regret: Why we shouldn’t go without them and start embracing them

Living with regret can lead to a better life going forward.

When it comes to a living life to its fullest, we often hear the two-word directive: “no regrets.” But what if instead of living a life without regrets, we embraced them? What if the past could be used to live a better life today and going forward?

Studio 5 Contributor Dr. Liz Hale says that regret points the way to a life well-lived.


Living With Regret

Regret is one of the most powerful emotions – and one of the most misunderstood. Regrets are a universal part of the human experience. All of us have some experience or decision in our life we wish we had done differently – or some action we wish we had taken or not taken.

Regret is not dangerous or abnormal; it is healthy and informative. Understanding how regret works can improve our decision-making skills, make us better problem solvers, help us perform better at work and school, deepen our connection to others, and enhance our life’s meaning.


Sadly, we have a very non-regret culture which causes us to miss out on something incredibly valuable.

There are three common conclusions and responses to regret, each leaving us with a different result:

  1. Regretful feelings are ignored. (Delusion)
  2. Regretful feelings are wallowed in. (Despair)
  3. Regretful feelings are thought about & addressed. (Discovery)

We need to reclaim regret as an indispensable emotion.

We don’t want to minimize regret we want to optimize it.

When we think of regret as a signal, as a knock at the door, it is a powerfully transformative emotion.


Researcher/author Daniel Pink combed over 50 years of social science on regret. It was the largest quantitative analysis conducted on American attitudes about regret. That research tells us that every healthy person has regrets, and that regrets make us human. Looking backward moves us forward. Regret can be destructive or instructive. We need the ability to regret our poor decisions – to feel bad about them – precisely so we can improve those decisions in the future. Regret doesn’t just make us human; it makes us better.

Around the world, people continue to express the same four core regrets and the same four if-only’s:

  • Foundation Regrets (financial, educational, health): A man who regrets not saving and investing money from the start of his career, now speaks to other young first-time employed individuals, inspiring them by showing how much further ahead they can be than he is by investing all along the way. “If only I’d done the work.”
  • Boldness Regrets (wish I had asked someone out, started a business, spoken up): A man and woman shared a long train ride and talked as if they had known each other forever. When the women exited at her stop, they parted without exchanging names or numbers. It haunted this man for 40 years. “If only I had taken the chance.”
  • Moral Regrets (at a juncture; wrong vs right action): Many regret bullying, infidelity, stealing from a grocery store as a young child, still 60 years later. “If only I’d done the right thing.”
  • Connection Regrets (relationships you long to have or did have and they’ve fallen apart): It’s no surprise this is the biggest category. These are both drifts and rifts in connections. We don’t reach out because we fear it’s going to be awkward and the other side may not be receptive. ”If only I’d reached out.”


If you are at a juncture in your life and are thinking about someone wondering, “Should I reach out or should I not reach out?” The answer is, always reach out. Especially at a time like today, we need connections! Reaching out is rarely as awkward as people fear and is almost always well-received.

When we understand what we regret the most, we learn what we value the most! Every regret reveals something fundamental about humanity and what we need. We need stability. We want a chance to learn and grow and do something. We recognize that we are not here forever, and we don’t want to regret regrets.

Reimagining regret is a powerful force! We want to look regrets squarely in the eye and learn from them. Expect regret!

Looking backward can point us forward to a fuller, more meaningful life.


Dr. Liz Hale is the Studio 5 Marriage & Family Coordinator. She is passionate about helping relationships survive and thrive! She works hard on keeping her own relationships healthy and strong. But don’t stand in her way of a daily, sanity-maintaining brisk walk (just ask her husband, Ben!)

While Dr. Liz always thought she’d grow up to be a nurse following in her mother’s footsteps; but her mother unknowingly directed her daughter towards the field of psychology by having her follow her to hear motivational speakers like Zig Ziglar as early as the 6th grade. It turns out that learning early about the magnificence of the power of the mind is the basis for Liz eventually pursuing a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. (And it’s a good thing she’s a psychologist; the sight of blood makes her queasy!)

For the past 25-years Dr. Liz has been passionate about her professional training and emphasis in marriage and family therapy, primarily working with couples and families within her private practices both in Seattle and downtown Salt Lake City. As a Certified Gottman Therapist she thrives on helping clients learn new, effective ways of being in their relationships. According to Dr. Liz, communication is never the problem; misperceptions are. There is nothing more rewarding than when a client turns to her and says, “I’ve never seen it/him/her that way before.”

When asked about her greatest achievement, she enthusiastically replies it’s her happy marriage to Ben Abo which they work on Every…Single…Day (whether Ben wants to or not!)

Marrying rather late in life, Dr. Liz is motivated to do whatever it takes to have a marriage that thrives and not just survives; and she is dedicated to helping other couples achieve the same. According to Dr. Liz there is no greater honor than when a client trusts and risks enough to share their heart and soul in therapy within the walls of her office she considers a “sacred space.”

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