A recent study suggests lost love causes the greatest regret of all in life. Researchers report that people have stronger feelings of regret about decisions involving romance and family than those involving work.

The findings underscore the importance of social relationships, according to Neal Roese, PhD, professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and his colleagues.

"Social relationships, we suggest, are the most pivotal component of life regrets. Failed marriages, turbulent romances and lost time with family may elicit regrets that last a lifetime," according to the study researchers.

The study was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science

Regrets about social relationships are intense because they threaten a person's need to belong, "Belonging, as a core human motive, powerfully connects to well-being and mental health," said the researchers.

Study Details

Northwestern University researchers conducted a series of five experiments, with participants ranging from 108 to 549 men and women. Some focused on college students and others on a representative sample of adult Americans. Studies involved rating intensity of life regrets and connecting that with the social impact of decisions.

Results suggested that love or other social decisions, such as ending a relationship or being unfaithful, are more intense than those involving work or nonsocial decisions, such as quitting a job or dropping out of college.


"What our research makes clear is that, while regrets are multifaceted with diverse consequences, their social impact looms especially large," the researchers concluded. "Regrets can stem from love or work, but those stemming from the former seem to be the toughest to overcome. The need to belong is not just a fundamental human motive but a fundamental component of regret."

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