Harvard Mental Health Letter

Commentary: The value of regret

Commentary

The value of regret

Regret is a powerful and potentially devastating emotion.

In 1995, a Liverpool man who regularly played one set of lottery numbers failed to renew his ticket during the week his numbers came in. Thinking (wrongly as it turned out) that he'd let a prize worth millions slip away, he committed suicide.

We can't know what he was thinking, but we can imagine that his emotional distress was compounded because he felt personally responsible for the outcome. And that is one definition of regret: recognizing the difference between how things are and how they might have turned out — if only we had made a different choice.

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