Life: We only get one chance at it. Throughout our time in this world, we each face countless choices and opportunities, and no one’s path is quite like another’s. Where will we go? What goals and desires will we pursue? Which challenges will we confront – and whom will we meet along the way? And when it’s all said and done, how will we feel looking back on the life we’ve led and the decisions we’ve made?
It’s difficult to imagine what our life may look like decades from now – so we decided to ask those with the most experience of all. In dozens of interviews with older men and women in the U.S. and Britain, we sought to discover their deepest thoughts on the course their life has taken. What are the moments they’ll always remember, for better or worse? In retrospect, what do they wish had been different in their personal histories? And what can they tell us about the values that should guide us as we navigate this world’s possibilities day by day? Their many stories are a potent and inspiring reminder to make the most out of your life.
As we’ve seen, many of the men and women interviewed are content with what they’ve experienced in life – yet just as many wish they had done more, and continue to express a desire to pursue more of life’s joys in their remaining years.
We also looked at our interviewees' combined responses overall to see the topics mentioned most frequently when they discussed their regrets. While mentions of "life" were understandably the most common, men and women interviewed were most likely to talk about one specific thing: their education. Parents and children were discussed as well, while topics such as travel and marriage were discussed even less than that. Altogether, our interviewees had a couple of main themes they considered important aspects of life: their education and the people they share their time with.
In addition to the interviews above, we asked 146 anonymous participants what their biggest regrets in life were, and 36 percent admitted it was not saving more money. In the U.S., 1 out of every 3 Americans has no money saved toward retirement, and 23 percent have less than $10,000 saved. This lack of savings to enable Americans to retire comfortably was the biggest regret of those surveyed.
Over 9 percent wished they’d traveled more, and almost 9 percent told us their biggest regret was not having planned ahead in life.
Other personal regrets included choices made regarding friendships, either getting married or deciding not to marry, and not being adventurous enough – each accounting for over 7 percent of our responses.
Despite some of these emotional regrets, only half of respondents told us they would go back and redo their life if given a chance. Forty-nine percent said they would keep things exactly the way they were.
If you could redo a specific aspect of your life, would you?
Of those who said yes, over 20 percent told us they would want another shot at their marital and romantic choices, while the same amount told us their educational decisions left them wanting another opportunity.
Others told us they would want an opportunity to redo their professional choices (almost 16 percent), while some admitted their friendships and travel choices were their top pick for life decisions to go back and try again.
While not saving money was the biggest regret most participants shared with us, only 3 percent said they would want a chance to redo their financial situation.
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We had photographers interview men and women over the age of 55. We asked these people a series of questions to reflect on their life as well us offer advice to the younger generations. In addition to the interviews, we surveyed 146 people to find out what types of regrets they had and if given the chance, would they redo their life?
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