As the past year comes to a close and a new year looms ahead, it is natural to take pause to consider one’s path and goals in life. Along these lines, Anne Gibson on page 5 surveyed members of the community on their New Year resolutions. From her article, it is clear that most resolutions involve being a better version of ourselves. Gaga Barnes on page 7 and Hollie Warnick on page 25 both offer tips on how to achieve these goals.
Recently, I came across the results of some social research that drew a very interesting conclusion that directly relates to New Year’s resolutions and goals. In an article titled, The ideal road not taken: The self-discrepancies involved in people’s most enduring regrets, Researchers Tom Gilovich and Davidai Shai have found people are bothered more by the things they hadn’t done rather than regret over the things they had. In other words, people often take steps to cope with failures of duty and responsibility (moral oughts), but ideal related regrets often remain unresolved, meaning that people regret not the mistakes of life as much as their failure to fulfill their hopes, dreams, and goals. This leaves some people feeling that they did not live up to their ideal selves.
Simply put, people tend to regret the things they hadn’t done rather than the things they had. The indication of such research suggests that we ought to stretch ourselves more, to take a risk in the direction in which we have always wanted to go. Many people have stories of the job field they did not pursue, the degree they did not work towards, the trip they wanted to take, the hobby they wanted to develop. Fear and apprehension may have held some back while others may have been thwarted by not knowing how to proceed. Just how do you go to college overseas? Life has ups and downs, and we all can attest there are those times when we should have taken a certain path, but we missed our opportunity.
The researcher’s take their title from Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. The poem highlights the struggle to choose one path or another. The truth is that hindsight is 20/20, and we do not know what would have happened if we took this path over the other path, or that job over this job, or moved there and not here, yet we can have a sense that along that path, there were missed opportunities that we passed by.
As 2019 comes and 2019 is past, let us look not past with regret over some perhaps missed opportunities or roads taken, but with the path before us with the awareness that sometimes, just sometimes, we ought to take that path less traveled. In other words, let our hopes and dreams guide us more than our fears and apprehensions.
Davidai, S., & Gilovich, T. (2018). The ideal road not taken: The self-discrepancies involved in people’s most enduring regrets. Emotion, 18(3), 439.