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Why do we feel regret?

Why do we feel regret?

When I make a bad decisions, I feel regret. But why do I feel regret? What benefit do I, or does anybody, get when they feel regret? What is the benefit of regret for those regretting?


Gilovich and Medvec's (1995) article in Psychological Review is a good place to start reading about psychological theories of regret.

They discuss economic approaches which interpret anticipated regret as influencing current actions. Thus, on a functional level, the desire to avoid regret could motivate us to make better decisions in the here and now.

More generally, many decisions do repeat in some form. Thus, the theory would be that we learn from our mistakes and by ruminating on our mistakes, we think about how we could do things differently in the future. Of course, this is a fairly adaptive response, and not all regret is this adaptive.

More generally, Gilovich and Medvec (1995) provide a good general summary of forces that reduce or increase the pain associated with regrettable actions both in relation to life long regrets and more short term regrets.

References

  • Gilovich, T., & Medvec, V. H. (1995). The experience of regret: what, when, and why. Psychological review, 102(2), 379. PDF

It’s Time to Make Peace with Your Regrets

For some of us, good things have happened this past year. We’ve been able to spend more time with loved ones, get back into hobbies, and learn new things. But for others, so much has been lost — in work, in social capital, and in life. Many of us are also feeling regret.

  • Regret is an emotion we’re all familiar with and it surfaces with action as well as inaction. We tend to feel regret about the things we haven’t done (missed opportunities) more intensely than regret about the things we did do.
  • Regret, like all difficult emotions, is neither intrinsically good nor bad. It is the actions we carry out in response to feeling regret that impact our long-term wellbeing.
  • To cope with regret and leave the past where it happened we need to: 1) Recognize our feelings and let them out. 2) Look at the past with gratitude rather than the lost opportunity costs. 3) Make regret productive by thinking about what we value and what actions we can take to get closer to the things that matter to us.

Job and life advice for young professionals. See more from Ascend here.

Do we still need to talk about the many ways this pandemic has impacted our lives? I think I’m past that stage. But I do occasionally sit with myself and feel sad, mostly for something that I’ve lost: time. While chatting with a friend recently — over Zoom, of course — we spoke about how we had made so many plans when 2020 began: We set goals for our careers, booked elaborate travel arrangements, and were prepared to celebrate milestone birthdays, including the day I would meet my nephew and my sister’s first child.

I did achieve my career goals. (Sans colleagues and work BFFs to celebrate with.)

I managed to make one trip to a remote cabin in the hills. (Staying put in the house for the entire duration.)

My sister’s baby came smiling, healthy, and adorable. (Only, I wasn’t there to cuddle him when he was born.)

And most days I’m okay. I’m not ruminating about what could have been. But when I do, I get into a vicious negativity spiral of “That might have happened if…” or “If it wasn’t for the pandemic…” and I wonder: Why do I feel so upset about something that I thought I had already adjusted to? Why is it so difficult to move on?

“Am I mourning?” I asked my friend. Merriam-Webster defines mourning as:

2: a period of time during which signs of grief are shown

“Regret,” said my friend. “I think we’re regretting.” I looked up the definition.

1: sorrow aroused by circumstances beyond one’s control or power to repair

2: an expression of distressing emotion (such as sorrow)

“That does sound like a better word,” I thought to myself.

The circumstances brought on by this pandemic were beyond our control and no one could have predicted it would go on this long. For some of us, good things have happened, like being able to spend more time with loved ones or get back into hobbies. But for others, so much has been lost — in work (promotions that we anticipated, increments that would’ve brought in more money), social capital (friends and family members we haven’t seen in months), and in life (premature goodbyes we’ve said to the people we care about).

That time isn’t coming back. So, how long can we keep doing this … dealing with the aftermath of our traumas and the lingering memories of a horrific year that plague any sense of optimism? I think for most of us, our biggest regrets right now revolve around missing out on something in life — a person we couldn’t speak with one last time, a dream job that slipped through our fingers, or a choice we didn’t make.

I needed answers, or help, maybe, to figure this out.

I reached out to Dr. Amy Silver, an expert in emotion management for high performance and author of The Loudest Guest, to understand how we can get better at dealing with regret, even though we might never totally get over our losses. Here are the edited excerpts of my chat with her.

Vasundhara: What is regret, and why do we feel it?

Amy: Simply put, regret is the feeling that we may have had something more positive now if we had made a different decision in the past, feeling sorry for misfortunes, or the disappointment over something we’ve failed to do. Largely we feel regret in terms of things we haven’t done (missed opportunities) more intensely than regret of things we did do (or decisions we made). Taking the past year as an example, as you process what you haven’t done, or what you have missed, you’re regretting.

A new study reveals that regret is also connected to our self-concept, or the difference between our ideal self and actual self. If you’re feeling that you might have gotten a promotion but Covid dampened the plan, or that you might have traveled to three new places had it been a normal year, you’re trying to measure up to your ideal self. The fact that you had nothing to do with those decisions is what is causing a greater asymmetry. In short, we’re feeling regretful because we didn’t reach our full potential or accomplish something we thought we would in that time period (and that time is lost).

Is it okay to regret, or is regret inherently bad?

Regret, like all difficult emotions is neither intrinsically good nor bad. It’s a feeling like many other feelings, but it is the actions that we choose following the emotion that make a difference to our long-term well-being.

It’s important for us to feel the emotion (like when we feel bad about something), so we can process the emotion. Oppression of negative emotions does no one any good. The more you ruminate — especially about what you can’t control — the harder it will be to work through painful feelings. So, what makes regret bad is when we don’t use the lessons it gives us or when we choose to keep suffering from it. You can’t rewind time. You can’t go back and fix it, so beating yourself up is not good.

For example, maybe you regret that you didn’t get a salary increase last year. Instead of thinking about what could’ve happened if you did get it, think about the fact that you still have a job or that you worked on some amazing projects, and that this year presents you with the opportunity to get a raise. What can you control here? How much effort you put in and how hard you work. That’s when regret is a good thing. If you keep contemplating, it’s going to eat into your present and prevent you from putting your soul into your work and strive for a better year. That’s when regret is bad.

Regret feels like this anchor holding us back in the past. How do we leave the past where it happened? How do we process painful emotions and learn from those feelings?

Moving on is about progressing, about not being captive to our past, and allowing the past to guide our actions in the future. There are things that we can do to help us move through these feelings.

Recognize your feelings and let them out: The exploration of what’s going on inside your head and heart is a good way to start moving into a position of control of over your emotions. When you catch yourself fruitlessly ruminating or getting caught in a negative mood, grab a pen and paper, and write down what you are thinking. This is known as emotional labeling.

Naming our feelings helps us create a language that we can use to discuss our state with others and gives us our own narrative to process. Get as specific as you can. For example, instead of labeling an emotion as just regret, think about whether you’re feeling sad, angry, envious, etc. When you identify negative emotions, you can better accept them and then manage them.

Practice gratitude: From a psychological point of view, the purpose of regret is to understand where we had control (and where we didn’t) and to learn from our experience. Granted, this comes with some level of pain about the past, about things you couldn’t achieve, but looking at the past with gratitude rather than the lost opportunity costs can make all the difference between getting stuck in the pain and growing from the learning.

For example, when you think, “I could have traveled to Japan last year,” change it to a statement of gratitude by saying, “I’m grateful that I live in a world where there are many experiences still to have, whether I am here or elsewhere.” Changing our focus to appreciate what we have is a practice we can all master and benefit from.

You could also keep a gratitude journal. When you find yourself slipping, write down three things you are grateful for. The more you practice gratitude, the more you will be aware of what you have and not what you don’t have.

Consider what you really want or value: When you feel hurt or sorrow or angst about the past, use the time to remind yourself what really matters in your life. Undoubtedly this will take us back to some of our core human needs like security and feeling loved.

For example, if you feel a sense of loss for missing out on family events through the pandemic, it could be evidence that you value family highly (not the event itself). If you feel angry about not getting that promotion, it may alert you of your need for growth (not necessarily that promotion).

Notice the themes of your regret so that you can start to draw a list of things that you know you must work toward to make your life fulfilling.


Why regret hurts so much—and why it’s good for us

When Robert Hallett was a kid, he wanted to be an astronaut. Everybody did. It was the 1960s, the era of NASA’s exhilarating space shuttle program, and schoolchildren gathered in cafeterias to watch, mesmerized, as miraculous takeoffs and moon landings crackled across tiny black-and-white TVs.

Astronauts seemed to have the most glamorous jobs imaginable: They were superheroes, explorers, scientists. “They were amazing people,” Hallett tells Quartz. “They flew from earth to the moon not knowing what they were going to see.” Who wouldn’t dream of becoming one of them?

Of course, our childhood dreams don’t always crystallize into reality. One recent survey found that only 10% of American adults held their childhood dream jobs. Would-be actors decide to prioritize financial security. Aspiring doctors have the wind taken out of their sails in a tough organic chemistry class. Some lack the confidence to pursue their goals. And some decide, as Hallet did, that a childhood aspiration of flying to the moon just isn’t realistic, and pursue degrees in geology and law instead.


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I would wonder, if you or someone else were to bring this issue to my office, if the voice of criticism might in fact exist before the act, and thus create a need to feel good in a way that is self-activated. Whose voice is this? A critical parent or caretaker? When did it start? What is the “crime” being committed here? Are you ignoring something else you “should” be doing instead? I would also be curious about the attitudes around sex in your family of origin. Was it seen as something “dirty” or wrong? Or maybe it wasn’t even talked about, creating a kind of unspoken shame around the topic it could also be you are inheriting shame around sex and pleasure from implicit or explicit family beliefs.

Sometimes such intensely self-hating emotions come when there has been some kind of overt or covert abuse, physical or emotional. I am not suggesting this is the case here, only that sometimes in my clinical work, I find an association of good sexual feelings with shame over an earlier boundary violation, subtle or severe. Of course, any intensive criticism you might have received, about what you are doing in private with your own body, would constitute a boundary violation of its own.

The other thing I’d want to explore is the question of whether masturbation is the only way to bring some kind of embodied, out-of-your-head relief or pleasure to yourself. Sometimes folks with obsessive minds pursue repetitive means of relieving an overburdened or tired mind. If you feel you have no choice but to masturbate, or if it drains you of necessary energy to complete the tasks of living (work, play, socializing), then you might be caught in a compulsive activity which might necessitate a therapeutic intervention. (I could be wrong, but my sense is that yours is not a compulsive or addictive issue, since those with sexual compulsions usually reflect more ambivalence or torn feelings than your letter indicates.)

The danger isn’t so much the “wrongness” of the act itself, in my view it’s the long-term effects of shame and self-loathing over bringing pleasure to yourself, and possibly sexual activity, which might inhibit intimacy and get in the way of developing satisfying romantic relationships—either concerning sex itself or shame over your habit. (I wonder if shame might also be felt in other areas where you seek personal satisfaction, like career, creativity, etc.) Shame about sex tends to create defenses that can keep others away, with heartbreaking results, when those we care about feel pushed away.

Good for you for having the courage to write in about such a sensitive issue it’s not only a common pleasurable activity, it’s relatively common to question whether it’s OK to do. You needn’t feel shame about the need to get some guidance on this, especially if balanced, non-shaming guidance was missing in earlier years.


Looking Back: Reflecting On The Past To Understand The Present

All of us are time travelers. If we just pause and close our eyes we can wander back to our first kiss, or the summer that went on forever. This week, we explore two emotions that pull us into the past: regret and nostalgia. How can we make these feelings work for us, and what can we learn from them?

By some estimates, regret is the most common negative emotion in our everyday lives. At the Regret Lab at Miami University in Ohio, psychologist Amy Summerville has found that a big part of why we struggle with regret has to do with the idea of rumination. It's a word that comes from bovine digestion: for cows, it's the act of chewing, digesting and chewing again. And in terms of our thoughts, it's the same kind of process.

"We're chewing them over without actually getting anything new out of them," she says. "People who have ruminative regret tend to be the people who are experiencing the most negative outcomes." But Summerville says that while we tend to experience regret negatively, we can often recast those old "what if" moments in a more productive way. Her advice: Remember that it may not be all your fault. "You're just one agent in a bigger framework," she says.

Psychologist Clay Routledge studies nostalgia, that gentle tug of longing you feel when you hear a favorite song from your high school days, or even recall moments of hardship and loss. Routledge says that some of the most interesting nostalgic memories he has studied come from older British adults who were children during World War II, when Germany was bombing Great Britain.

Though many of them were sent to the countryside and separated from their families, he says these difficult memories "stripped away all the nonsense of life and reminded them how precious it is." He says that taking time to reminisce, even about the hard times, can help you rewrite the story of your life.

"There is a big element of nostalgia that isn't about us retreating to the past," he says. "It's about us pulling the past forward to the present, and using it to mobilize us, to energize us, to take on new challenges and opportunities."

Why Do We Feel Nostalgia? Clay Routledge's animated lesson on nostalgia for TED.

Nostalgia Is a Potent Political Agent — Routledge's article for Undark on why people crave the past when the present is distressing.


The Fascinating Psychology Behind Buyer's Remorse

We&rsquove all been there: that moment when (after much deliberation) you finally purchase something, only to be left with a guilty knot in your stomach. Maybe that was a bad idea, we think, as the regret seeps in. But (here come the justifications) the item in question was just so cute, you know? And it may change my life. Nevertheless, the icky feeling stays.

This phenomenon&mdashformally known as buyer&rsquos remorse&mdashis all too common in our world. Since nothing is ever as simple as it looks on the surface, we were curious to get to the bottom of why this happens (and how we might avoid it going forward). To do that, we spoke to Art Markman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Smart Change: Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others.

Scroll down to find out what&rsquos really going on when you feel buyer&rsquos remorse.

&ldquoEmotions like regret and guilt, which you experience with buyer&rsquos remorse, reflect the engagement of the avoidance motivational system. This system helps you deal with any negative things that might happen in your world (such as debt). There is a second motivational system, called the approach system, which focuses on what you desire in the world.

&ldquoWhen you shop, you&rsquore often overwhelmed by the approach system. A new pair of shoes, a great dress, or a fantastic top make you think about how much you would like to own them. When you&rsquore governed by approach motivation, your avoidance concerns play little role in the decision-making process.&rdquo

&ldquoAfter you make the purchase, however, the approach motivation system calms down. At that point, avoidance concerns like worries about money can come to the forefront. They are the most frequent cause of buyer&rsquos remorse. One way to avoid this phenomenon is to buy things with cash rather than credit cards. That makes the money more tangible and gives your concerns about spending a better chance of having an influence on your purchases.&rdquo

&ldquoAnother thing you can do is to try to calm the activity of the approach system. One way to do that is to find the objects you want to buy and then to ask the store to hold them for 24 hours. If you still feel you need them a day later, then you can always go back to the store to get them. But, at least you have given yourself a chance to rethink the purchase.&rdquo

&ldquoChances are that if you&rsquore a shopper experiencing buyer&rsquos remorse, you&rsquove felt it in the past as well. If so, then you should work to limit the degree to which your approach motivation will affect the choices you make. The best way to do that is to make a list of the things you need before you go to the store.

&ldquoIn addition, generate a budget for what you can spend before you start shopping. Every time you&rsquore tempted to make a purchase that is not on the list, remind yourself of the impact it will have on your budget. It&rsquos not a foolproof system, but it will minimize the number of times you make purchases that you will later regret.&rdquo

If you&rsquore looking to make a smart purchase, consider the elevated essentials below.


Regrets, We’ve Had a Few — But Why?

Before FOMO (fear of missing out) was even a thing, I had a similar anxiety — the fear of future regret. When I was in college and my early 20s, I made a conscious decision not to miss out on once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Somewhere deep down I knew that if I didn't take that opportunity to study abroad in the Middle East or attempt to break into Hollywood screenwriting after graduation, that I would regret it later.

Turns out I might have been on to something. According to growing research on the science of regret, we humans are far more likely to experience gnawing feelings of regret for things that we didn't do (inaction) than mistakes that we made along the way (actions). And those regrets cut much deeper and last much longer when those inactions are perceived as failures to live up to an idealized version of ourselves.

What Is Regret?

First, let's define regret. Marcel Zeelenberg, a scholar of economic psychology and behavioral economics, defines regret as "the negative, cognitively based emotion that we experience when realizing or imagining that our present situation would have been better had we acted differently. Because of this cognitive process of comparing outcomes to 'what might have been' regret has been called a counterfactual emotion."

"Counterfactual" means something that didn't happen. So the emotion of regret can be triggered by thoughts of an alternative, presumably better reality that didn't come to pass because we were too scared/lazy/stupid to take action in the past.

While lingering regrets can make us feel lousy, scientists believe the pain of regret serves an important evolutionary purpose. Giorgio Coricelli at the University of Southern California is a neuroeconomist who studies the role of regret in decision making. He writes that emotions, rather than interfering with our ability to make rational decisions, can in fact nudge us toward behaving even more rationally.

The aching feeling of regret, it turns out, can be a great teacher. Over time, the pain of past experience will prompt us to act differently in the future. On an evolutionary level, if our distant ancestors regretted dropping a rock on their foot or losing their mate to a rival, they would learn to make better future decisions that were more likely to ensure their survival and reproductive success. In a similar way, if you regret not asking Jessica to the prom in high school, you may be less likely to chicken out with the new girl in accounting.

In 2017, social psychologist Shai Davidai at the New School for Social Research published a cool paper on regret with his colleague Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University. The paper includes a quote from "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying," a book written by palliative nurse Bonnie Ware. The most commonly cited deathbed regret was, "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

Action vs. Inaction

By surveying dozens of adults of different ages, Davidai and Gilovich confirmed Ware's anecdotal evidence that the most painful regrets are most often caused by inaction rather than action. But going a step further, Davidai and Gilovich identified a certain subset of regrets as the most enduring — those that highlight the distance between our actual self and the ideal self we always dreamed of becoming.

The research is based on the idea that we all carry around three different perceptions of self: our actual self, our "ought" self and our "ideal" self. The ought self is the person we believe we should be based on societal and personal expectations of duty and responsible behavior. The ideal self is the person we dream of becoming by realizing all of our hopes, goals and aspirations. Regrets inevitably form in the perceived distance between our actual selves and these ought and ideal selves.

From the survey results, Davidai and Gilovich concluded that regrets related to our ideal self are much more psychologically pernicious, and offered several theories as to why:

  • "Ought"-based regrets are initially felt much more strongly, such as the regret of cheating on a spouse or not visiting a dying relative. And because they produce such a "hot" psychological response, people are more likely to take steps to address or lessen the regret by apologizing or rationalizing the behavior. In that way, the regret doesn't fester over time.
  • "Ideal"-related regrets, on the other hand, don't provoke a strongly negative psychological response at first. If you regret taking a boring summer internship instead of going on that wild European backpacking trip with your friends, the initial psychological sting may be relatively cold. After all, it was the prudent thing to do. It's only over time, as you repeatedly hear stories from that trip, or watch movies with characters who have unforgettable experiences traveling abroad, that the unresolved regret balloons into something bigger.
  • Also, the distance between our ideal self and our actual self will always be greater than the distance between our ought self and our actual self. We often set unattainable aspirations for ourselves, like overcoming shyness to become a famous actor, or overcoming a lifelong hatred of exercise to become a marathon runner. And even when we achieve more realistic expectations, the authors write, "[we] often develop new ones that are harder to meet."

Not everybody experiences regret in the same way, and some of that may come down to how our individual brains respond to regretful experiences. Researchers have conducted several neuroimaging studies to identify the areas of the brain responsible for producing feelings of regret and the top contender is a region called the lateral orbitofrontal cortex.

Hamdi Eryilmaz, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, ran some of these neuroimaging studies, which use fMRI machines to scan people's brain activity as they play gambling exercises designed to induce feelings of regret. He says that the lateral orbitofrontal cortex lights up with elevated activity when people feel regret, and that the effect is stronger and longer-lasting in people who self-report a tendency to "ruminate" or overthink past decisions.

In an email, Eryilmaz says that we don't yet know exactly how the brain uses its neurotransmitters to trigger the emotional sting of regret, but there's evidence that the "orbitofrontal cortex both mediates the experience of regret and also anticipation of regret." And it's the anticipation of regret that helps us avoid collecting even more regrets in the future.

It's not too late to avoid those deathbed regrets of not living up to your true self. Save up to take that trip you've always dreamed about, or finish that movie screenplay that's been sitting in your desk for a decade. Just don't message your old high-school boyfriend on Facebook. You'll regret it.


Breathe

We’ve all heard the phrase, “No regrets!”, usually uttered when about to do something a little unwise perhaps.

And yet, as alluring as the “Living Without Regrets” philosophy sounds, it’s not always so easy.

We regret missed opportunities.

We regret things that made us feel dumb.

We regret not telling someone we loved them more before they died.

We regret not spending our time more wisely, accomplishing more.

We regret procrastinating, not forming better habits, eating too many sweets, not writing the novel we always wanted to write, not reading all the books we planned to read, not mastering Russian or chess or the ninja arts.

We regret getting into bad relationships, or making mistakes in a past relationship.

Yes, we regret things, and sometimes it can be consuming.

Why We Have Regret

Simply put, we regret choices we make, because we worry that we should have made other choices.

We think we should have done something better, but didn’t. We should have chosen a better mate, but didn’t. We should have taken that more exciting but risky job, but didn’t. We should have been more disciplined, but weren’t.

We regret these choices, which are in the past and can’t be changed, because we compare them to an ideal path that we think we should have taken. We have an idea in our heads of what could have been, if only a different choice had been made.

The problem is that we cannot change those choices. So we keep comparing the unchangeable choice we actually made, to this ideal. This fantasy. It can’t be changed, and it will never be as good as the ideal. The unchangeable choice we made will always be worse. It spins around and around in our heads.

Why can’t we let it go? What’s so important that we need to keep thinking about it?

Why We Keep Thinking About Regret

I’ve noticed that I have a hard time not thinking about a bad choice because of how it conflicts with my self-identity.

We all have this idea of who we are: we’re good people. Perhaps we’re smart, or competent, or good-hearted. We make the best choices we can, of course, because we’re good people. Even if you have self-doubt and a bad self-image, you probably think you’re basically a good person.

And so when someone else attacks that identity — insults your competence, calls you a liar, says that you’re a cheater — it hurts! We get angry and defensive. We can’t stop thinking about this offense.

And when we believe we made a mistake, this also is an attack on that identity. We made a bad choice … why can’t we have been a better person and made a better choice? This bad choice conflicts with our idea that we’re a good person.

So the problem spins around and around, without resolution. There’s no way to solve this problem, because the bad choice can’t be changed and we can’t resolve the conflict with our self-identity.

How to Let Go of Regret

In examining why we have regret, and why it’s so hard to let go, we can see a couple of root causes that we can address:

  1. We compare past choices to an ideal.
  2. We have an ideal identity that conflicts with the idea of the bad choice.

These both revolve around ideals, which are not reality but our fantasies of how we’d like reality to go. They’re made up, and not helpful. In this case, these ideals are causing us anguish.

So the practice is to let go of the ideals, and embrace reality.

Here’s the reality of those two root causes:

  1. The choice we made in the past is done, and we can’t change it. And in fact there’s some good in the choice, if we choose to see it. Being able to make the choice at all is an amazing thing, as is being alive, and learning from our experiences, and being in the presence of other really great people, etc. And we can be satisfied with our choices and see them as “good enough” instead of always hoping for the perfect choices. Some choices will be great, some won’t be perfect, and we can embrace the entire range of choices we make.
  2. We are not actually always good, and in fact our identity can encompass a whole range: we are sometimes good, sometimes not, and sometimes somewhere in between. We make mistakes, we do good things, we care, we are selfish, we are honest, we sometimes aren’t honest. We are all of it, and so making a bad choice isn’t in conflict with that more flexible (and realistic) self-identity. It’s a part of it.

That’s all easier said than done, but when we find ourselves obsessing over past choices, we can 1) recognize that we’re falling into this pattern, 2) realize that there’s some ideal we’re comparing our choices and ourselves to, and 3) let go of these perfect ideals and embrace a wider range of reality.

This is a constant practice, but it helps us not look for perfection, not constantly review past choices, but instead find satisfaction in what we’ve done and focus in what we’re doing now.

Regrets are a part of life, whether we want them or not, whether we’re aware we’re having them or not. But by looking into the cause of regrets, and embracing the wide range of reality, we can learn to be satisfied with our choices, happier with the past and happier in the present moment.


Three categories of negative emotions

Table 1: Differences in men and women’s feelings after sex. Click on the table to enlarge it. SHOW MORE

Researchers from Brazil, Norway and North America collaborated to investigate the topic. They received responses from four groups that formed the basis of the surveys, one from each region and a fourth group, chosen from Anglo-Americans who responded online. Sources from the US and Canada were merged into one, as the researchers found no difference between their responses. (See TABLE 1.)

The maximum age was set at 30 years. People’s sexual habits tend to change around that age, when many are in long-term relationships and the end of women’s reproductive age is drawing closer.

“We assumed that there were two or three main types of negative emotions after sex,” says Kennair.

1. LACK OF PROXIMITY: One type of negative feeling is when you want a stronger connection afterwards, where you feel rejected or want more closeness.
2. LACK OF DISTANCE:The second type of negative feeling is the opposite, where you want to leave afterwards and experience your sexual partner as clingy.

3. REPUTATION: A third form of negative emotion is where you feel regret because you worry about your reputation.

The maximum age was set to 30, because people’s sexual habits change over the years. Illustration: Thinkstock SHOW MORE

The third form of negative emotion is similar between men and women. Both men and women think about their reputation. A bad reputation can make you less attractive to other partners who may be a better fit for you in the long run than the person you just shared a bed or restaurant toilet with.

The main differences between the sexes can be found among those who want to leave and those who want the other to stay.


Breathe

We’ve all heard the phrase, “No regrets!”, usually uttered when about to do something a little unwise perhaps.

And yet, as alluring as the “Living Without Regrets” philosophy sounds, it’s not always so easy.

We regret missed opportunities.

We regret things that made us feel dumb.

We regret not telling someone we loved them more before they died.

We regret not spending our time more wisely, accomplishing more.

We regret procrastinating, not forming better habits, eating too many sweets, not writing the novel we always wanted to write, not reading all the books we planned to read, not mastering Russian or chess or the ninja arts.

We regret getting into bad relationships, or making mistakes in a past relationship.

Yes, we regret things, and sometimes it can be consuming.

Why We Have Regret

Simply put, we regret choices we make, because we worry that we should have made other choices.

We think we should have done something better, but didn’t. We should have chosen a better mate, but didn’t. We should have taken that more exciting but risky job, but didn’t. We should have been more disciplined, but weren’t.

We regret these choices, which are in the past and can’t be changed, because we compare them to an ideal path that we think we should have taken. We have an idea in our heads of what could have been, if only a different choice had been made.

The problem is that we cannot change those choices. So we keep comparing the unchangeable choice we actually made, to this ideal. This fantasy. It can’t be changed, and it will never be as good as the ideal. The unchangeable choice we made will always be worse. It spins around and around in our heads.

Why can’t we let it go? What’s so important that we need to keep thinking about it?

Why We Keep Thinking About Regret

I’ve noticed that I have a hard time not thinking about a bad choice because of how it conflicts with my self-identity.

We all have this idea of who we are: we’re good people. Perhaps we’re smart, or competent, or good-hearted. We make the best choices we can, of course, because we’re good people. Even if you have self-doubt and a bad self-image, you probably think you’re basically a good person.

And so when someone else attacks that identity — insults your competence, calls you a liar, says that you’re a cheater — it hurts! We get angry and defensive. We can’t stop thinking about this offense.

And when we believe we made a mistake, this also is an attack on that identity. We made a bad choice … why can’t we have been a better person and made a better choice? This bad choice conflicts with our idea that we’re a good person.

So the problem spins around and around, without resolution. There’s no way to solve this problem, because the bad choice can’t be changed and we can’t resolve the conflict with our self-identity.

How to Let Go of Regret

In examining why we have regret, and why it’s so hard to let go, we can see a couple of root causes that we can address:

  1. We compare past choices to an ideal.
  2. We have an ideal identity that conflicts with the idea of the bad choice.

These both revolve around ideals, which are not reality but our fantasies of how we’d like reality to go. They’re made up, and not helpful. In this case, these ideals are causing us anguish.

So the practice is to let go of the ideals, and embrace reality.

Here’s the reality of those two root causes:

  1. The choice we made in the past is done, and we can’t change it. And in fact there’s some good in the choice, if we choose to see it. Being able to make the choice at all is an amazing thing, as is being alive, and learning from our experiences, and being in the presence of other really great people, etc. And we can be satisfied with our choices and see them as “good enough” instead of always hoping for the perfect choices. Some choices will be great, some won’t be perfect, and we can embrace the entire range of choices we make.
  2. We are not actually always good, and in fact our identity can encompass a whole range: we are sometimes good, sometimes not, and sometimes somewhere in between. We make mistakes, we do good things, we care, we are selfish, we are honest, we sometimes aren’t honest. We are all of it, and so making a bad choice isn’t in conflict with that more flexible (and realistic) self-identity. It’s a part of it.

That’s all easier said than done, but when we find ourselves obsessing over past choices, we can 1) recognize that we’re falling into this pattern, 2) realize that there’s some ideal we’re comparing our choices and ourselves to, and 3) let go of these perfect ideals and embrace a wider range of reality.

This is a constant practice, but it helps us not look for perfection, not constantly review past choices, but instead find satisfaction in what we’ve done and focus in what we’re doing now.

Regrets are a part of life, whether we want them or not, whether we’re aware we’re having them or not. But by looking into the cause of regrets, and embracing the wide range of reality, we can learn to be satisfied with our choices, happier with the past and happier in the present moment.


Why regret hurts so much—and why it’s good for us

When Robert Hallett was a kid, he wanted to be an astronaut. Everybody did. It was the 1960s, the era of NASA’s exhilarating space shuttle program, and schoolchildren gathered in cafeterias to watch, mesmerized, as miraculous takeoffs and moon landings crackled across tiny black-and-white TVs.

Astronauts seemed to have the most glamorous jobs imaginable: They were superheroes, explorers, scientists. “They were amazing people,” Hallett tells Quartz. “They flew from earth to the moon not knowing what they were going to see.” Who wouldn’t dream of becoming one of them?

Of course, our childhood dreams don’t always crystallize into reality. One recent survey found that only 10% of American adults held their childhood dream jobs. Would-be actors decide to prioritize financial security. Aspiring doctors have the wind taken out of their sails in a tough organic chemistry class. Some lack the confidence to pursue their goals. And some decide, as Hallet did, that a childhood aspiration of flying to the moon just isn’t realistic, and pursue degrees in geology and law instead.


Find a Therapist

I would wonder, if you or someone else were to bring this issue to my office, if the voice of criticism might in fact exist before the act, and thus create a need to feel good in a way that is self-activated. Whose voice is this? A critical parent or caretaker? When did it start? What is the “crime” being committed here? Are you ignoring something else you “should” be doing instead? I would also be curious about the attitudes around sex in your family of origin. Was it seen as something “dirty” or wrong? Or maybe it wasn’t even talked about, creating a kind of unspoken shame around the topic it could also be you are inheriting shame around sex and pleasure from implicit or explicit family beliefs.

Sometimes such intensely self-hating emotions come when there has been some kind of overt or covert abuse, physical or emotional. I am not suggesting this is the case here, only that sometimes in my clinical work, I find an association of good sexual feelings with shame over an earlier boundary violation, subtle or severe. Of course, any intensive criticism you might have received, about what you are doing in private with your own body, would constitute a boundary violation of its own.

The other thing I’d want to explore is the question of whether masturbation is the only way to bring some kind of embodied, out-of-your-head relief or pleasure to yourself. Sometimes folks with obsessive minds pursue repetitive means of relieving an overburdened or tired mind. If you feel you have no choice but to masturbate, or if it drains you of necessary energy to complete the tasks of living (work, play, socializing), then you might be caught in a compulsive activity which might necessitate a therapeutic intervention. (I could be wrong, but my sense is that yours is not a compulsive or addictive issue, since those with sexual compulsions usually reflect more ambivalence or torn feelings than your letter indicates.)

The danger isn’t so much the “wrongness” of the act itself, in my view it’s the long-term effects of shame and self-loathing over bringing pleasure to yourself, and possibly sexual activity, which might inhibit intimacy and get in the way of developing satisfying romantic relationships—either concerning sex itself or shame over your habit. (I wonder if shame might also be felt in other areas where you seek personal satisfaction, like career, creativity, etc.) Shame about sex tends to create defenses that can keep others away, with heartbreaking results, when those we care about feel pushed away.

Good for you for having the courage to write in about such a sensitive issue it’s not only a common pleasurable activity, it’s relatively common to question whether it’s OK to do. You needn’t feel shame about the need to get some guidance on this, especially if balanced, non-shaming guidance was missing in earlier years.


“I regret divorcing a good man.”

Sometimes, women regret divorcing a good guy. I know of one couple who split up because she felt like he cared too much about his career, and she was lonely. He was a good guy, her life was fine, but she wanted more. She fell in love with her gay fitness instructor (who, needless to say, did not return her sentiments), ended the marriage and when her ex went on to marry a much younger woman, have two babies and grow his restaurant business into a venture netting in the hundred-million-dollar range, she regretted her decision.

You likely will not, but just get on with it. Find the value in your experience, forge a new journey and land in a new and different — possibly better — place.


Regrets, We’ve Had a Few — But Why?

Before FOMO (fear of missing out) was even a thing, I had a similar anxiety — the fear of future regret. When I was in college and my early 20s, I made a conscious decision not to miss out on once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Somewhere deep down I knew that if I didn't take that opportunity to study abroad in the Middle East or attempt to break into Hollywood screenwriting after graduation, that I would regret it later.

Turns out I might have been on to something. According to growing research on the science of regret, we humans are far more likely to experience gnawing feelings of regret for things that we didn't do (inaction) than mistakes that we made along the way (actions). And those regrets cut much deeper and last much longer when those inactions are perceived as failures to live up to an idealized version of ourselves.

What Is Regret?

First, let's define regret. Marcel Zeelenberg, a scholar of economic psychology and behavioral economics, defines regret as "the negative, cognitively based emotion that we experience when realizing or imagining that our present situation would have been better had we acted differently. Because of this cognitive process of comparing outcomes to 'what might have been' regret has been called a counterfactual emotion."

"Counterfactual" means something that didn't happen. So the emotion of regret can be triggered by thoughts of an alternative, presumably better reality that didn't come to pass because we were too scared/lazy/stupid to take action in the past.

While lingering regrets can make us feel lousy, scientists believe the pain of regret serves an important evolutionary purpose. Giorgio Coricelli at the University of Southern California is a neuroeconomist who studies the role of regret in decision making. He writes that emotions, rather than interfering with our ability to make rational decisions, can in fact nudge us toward behaving even more rationally.

The aching feeling of regret, it turns out, can be a great teacher. Over time, the pain of past experience will prompt us to act differently in the future. On an evolutionary level, if our distant ancestors regretted dropping a rock on their foot or losing their mate to a rival, they would learn to make better future decisions that were more likely to ensure their survival and reproductive success. In a similar way, if you regret not asking Jessica to the prom in high school, you may be less likely to chicken out with the new girl in accounting.

In 2017, social psychologist Shai Davidai at the New School for Social Research published a cool paper on regret with his colleague Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University. The paper includes a quote from "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying," a book written by palliative nurse Bonnie Ware. The most commonly cited deathbed regret was, "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

Action vs. Inaction

By surveying dozens of adults of different ages, Davidai and Gilovich confirmed Ware's anecdotal evidence that the most painful regrets are most often caused by inaction rather than action. But going a step further, Davidai and Gilovich identified a certain subset of regrets as the most enduring — those that highlight the distance between our actual self and the ideal self we always dreamed of becoming.

The research is based on the idea that we all carry around three different perceptions of self: our actual self, our "ought" self and our "ideal" self. The ought self is the person we believe we should be based on societal and personal expectations of duty and responsible behavior. The ideal self is the person we dream of becoming by realizing all of our hopes, goals and aspirations. Regrets inevitably form in the perceived distance between our actual selves and these ought and ideal selves.

From the survey results, Davidai and Gilovich concluded that regrets related to our ideal self are much more psychologically pernicious, and offered several theories as to why:

  • "Ought"-based regrets are initially felt much more strongly, such as the regret of cheating on a spouse or not visiting a dying relative. And because they produce such a "hot" psychological response, people are more likely to take steps to address or lessen the regret by apologizing or rationalizing the behavior. In that way, the regret doesn't fester over time.
  • "Ideal"-related regrets, on the other hand, don't provoke a strongly negative psychological response at first. If you regret taking a boring summer internship instead of going on that wild European backpacking trip with your friends, the initial psychological sting may be relatively cold. After all, it was the prudent thing to do. It's only over time, as you repeatedly hear stories from that trip, or watch movies with characters who have unforgettable experiences traveling abroad, that the unresolved regret balloons into something bigger.
  • Also, the distance between our ideal self and our actual self will always be greater than the distance between our ought self and our actual self. We often set unattainable aspirations for ourselves, like overcoming shyness to become a famous actor, or overcoming a lifelong hatred of exercise to become a marathon runner. And even when we achieve more realistic expectations, the authors write, "[we] often develop new ones that are harder to meet."

Not everybody experiences regret in the same way, and some of that may come down to how our individual brains respond to regretful experiences. Researchers have conducted several neuroimaging studies to identify the areas of the brain responsible for producing feelings of regret and the top contender is a region called the lateral orbitofrontal cortex.

Hamdi Eryilmaz, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, ran some of these neuroimaging studies, which use fMRI machines to scan people's brain activity as they play gambling exercises designed to induce feelings of regret. He says that the lateral orbitofrontal cortex lights up with elevated activity when people feel regret, and that the effect is stronger and longer-lasting in people who self-report a tendency to "ruminate" or overthink past decisions.

In an email, Eryilmaz says that we don't yet know exactly how the brain uses its neurotransmitters to trigger the emotional sting of regret, but there's evidence that the "orbitofrontal cortex both mediates the experience of regret and also anticipation of regret." And it's the anticipation of regret that helps us avoid collecting even more regrets in the future.

It's not too late to avoid those deathbed regrets of not living up to your true self. Save up to take that trip you've always dreamed about, or finish that movie screenplay that's been sitting in your desk for a decade. Just don't message your old high-school boyfriend on Facebook. You'll regret it.


The Fascinating Psychology Behind Buyer's Remorse

We&rsquove all been there: that moment when (after much deliberation) you finally purchase something, only to be left with a guilty knot in your stomach. Maybe that was a bad idea, we think, as the regret seeps in. But (here come the justifications) the item in question was just so cute, you know? And it may change my life. Nevertheless, the icky feeling stays.

This phenomenon&mdashformally known as buyer&rsquos remorse&mdashis all too common in our world. Since nothing is ever as simple as it looks on the surface, we were curious to get to the bottom of why this happens (and how we might avoid it going forward). To do that, we spoke to Art Markman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Smart Change: Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others.

Scroll down to find out what&rsquos really going on when you feel buyer&rsquos remorse.

&ldquoEmotions like regret and guilt, which you experience with buyer&rsquos remorse, reflect the engagement of the avoidance motivational system. This system helps you deal with any negative things that might happen in your world (such as debt). There is a second motivational system, called the approach system, which focuses on what you desire in the world.

&ldquoWhen you shop, you&rsquore often overwhelmed by the approach system. A new pair of shoes, a great dress, or a fantastic top make you think about how much you would like to own them. When you&rsquore governed by approach motivation, your avoidance concerns play little role in the decision-making process.&rdquo

&ldquoAfter you make the purchase, however, the approach motivation system calms down. At that point, avoidance concerns like worries about money can come to the forefront. They are the most frequent cause of buyer&rsquos remorse. One way to avoid this phenomenon is to buy things with cash rather than credit cards. That makes the money more tangible and gives your concerns about spending a better chance of having an influence on your purchases.&rdquo

&ldquoAnother thing you can do is to try to calm the activity of the approach system. One way to do that is to find the objects you want to buy and then to ask the store to hold them for 24 hours. If you still feel you need them a day later, then you can always go back to the store to get them. But, at least you have given yourself a chance to rethink the purchase.&rdquo

&ldquoChances are that if you&rsquore a shopper experiencing buyer&rsquos remorse, you&rsquove felt it in the past as well. If so, then you should work to limit the degree to which your approach motivation will affect the choices you make. The best way to do that is to make a list of the things you need before you go to the store.

&ldquoIn addition, generate a budget for what you can spend before you start shopping. Every time you&rsquore tempted to make a purchase that is not on the list, remind yourself of the impact it will have on your budget. It&rsquos not a foolproof system, but it will minimize the number of times you make purchases that you will later regret.&rdquo

If you&rsquore looking to make a smart purchase, consider the elevated essentials below.


It’s Time to Make Peace with Your Regrets

For some of us, good things have happened this past year. We’ve been able to spend more time with loved ones, get back into hobbies, and learn new things. But for others, so much has been lost — in work, in social capital, and in life. Many of us are also feeling regret.

  • Regret is an emotion we’re all familiar with and it surfaces with action as well as inaction. We tend to feel regret about the things we haven’t done (missed opportunities) more intensely than regret about the things we did do.
  • Regret, like all difficult emotions, is neither intrinsically good nor bad. It is the actions we carry out in response to feeling regret that impact our long-term wellbeing.
  • To cope with regret and leave the past where it happened we need to: 1) Recognize our feelings and let them out. 2) Look at the past with gratitude rather than the lost opportunity costs. 3) Make regret productive by thinking about what we value and what actions we can take to get closer to the things that matter to us.

Job and life advice for young professionals. See more from Ascend here.

Do we still need to talk about the many ways this pandemic has impacted our lives? I think I’m past that stage. But I do occasionally sit with myself and feel sad, mostly for something that I’ve lost: time. While chatting with a friend recently — over Zoom, of course — we spoke about how we had made so many plans when 2020 began: We set goals for our careers, booked elaborate travel arrangements, and were prepared to celebrate milestone birthdays, including the day I would meet my nephew and my sister’s first child.

I did achieve my career goals. (Sans colleagues and work BFFs to celebrate with.)

I managed to make one trip to a remote cabin in the hills. (Staying put in the house for the entire duration.)

My sister’s baby came smiling, healthy, and adorable. (Only, I wasn’t there to cuddle him when he was born.)

And most days I’m okay. I’m not ruminating about what could have been. But when I do, I get into a vicious negativity spiral of “That might have happened if…” or “If it wasn’t for the pandemic…” and I wonder: Why do I feel so upset about something that I thought I had already adjusted to? Why is it so difficult to move on?

“Am I mourning?” I asked my friend. Merriam-Webster defines mourning as:

2: a period of time during which signs of grief are shown

“Regret,” said my friend. “I think we’re regretting.” I looked up the definition.

1: sorrow aroused by circumstances beyond one’s control or power to repair

2: an expression of distressing emotion (such as sorrow)

“That does sound like a better word,” I thought to myself.

The circumstances brought on by this pandemic were beyond our control and no one could have predicted it would go on this long. For some of us, good things have happened, like being able to spend more time with loved ones or get back into hobbies. But for others, so much has been lost — in work (promotions that we anticipated, increments that would’ve brought in more money), social capital (friends and family members we haven’t seen in months), and in life (premature goodbyes we’ve said to the people we care about).

That time isn’t coming back. So, how long can we keep doing this … dealing with the aftermath of our traumas and the lingering memories of a horrific year that plague any sense of optimism? I think for most of us, our biggest regrets right now revolve around missing out on something in life — a person we couldn’t speak with one last time, a dream job that slipped through our fingers, or a choice we didn’t make.

I needed answers, or help, maybe, to figure this out.

I reached out to Dr. Amy Silver, an expert in emotion management for high performance and author of The Loudest Guest, to understand how we can get better at dealing with regret, even though we might never totally get over our losses. Here are the edited excerpts of my chat with her.

Vasundhara: What is regret, and why do we feel it?

Amy: Simply put, regret is the feeling that we may have had something more positive now if we had made a different decision in the past, feeling sorry for misfortunes, or the disappointment over something we’ve failed to do. Largely we feel regret in terms of things we haven’t done (missed opportunities) more intensely than regret of things we did do (or decisions we made). Taking the past year as an example, as you process what you haven’t done, or what you have missed, you’re regretting.

A new study reveals that regret is also connected to our self-concept, or the difference between our ideal self and actual self. If you’re feeling that you might have gotten a promotion but Covid dampened the plan, or that you might have traveled to three new places had it been a normal year, you’re trying to measure up to your ideal self. The fact that you had nothing to do with those decisions is what is causing a greater asymmetry. In short, we’re feeling regretful because we didn’t reach our full potential or accomplish something we thought we would in that time period (and that time is lost).

Is it okay to regret, or is regret inherently bad?

Regret, like all difficult emotions is neither intrinsically good nor bad. It’s a feeling like many other feelings, but it is the actions that we choose following the emotion that make a difference to our long-term well-being.

It’s important for us to feel the emotion (like when we feel bad about something), so we can process the emotion. Oppression of negative emotions does no one any good. The more you ruminate — especially about what you can’t control — the harder it will be to work through painful feelings. So, what makes regret bad is when we don’t use the lessons it gives us or when we choose to keep suffering from it. You can’t rewind time. You can’t go back and fix it, so beating yourself up is not good.

For example, maybe you regret that you didn’t get a salary increase last year. Instead of thinking about what could’ve happened if you did get it, think about the fact that you still have a job or that you worked on some amazing projects, and that this year presents you with the opportunity to get a raise. What can you control here? How much effort you put in and how hard you work. That’s when regret is a good thing. If you keep contemplating, it’s going to eat into your present and prevent you from putting your soul into your work and strive for a better year. That’s when regret is bad.

Regret feels like this anchor holding us back in the past. How do we leave the past where it happened? How do we process painful emotions and learn from those feelings?

Moving on is about progressing, about not being captive to our past, and allowing the past to guide our actions in the future. There are things that we can do to help us move through these feelings.

Recognize your feelings and let them out: The exploration of what’s going on inside your head and heart is a good way to start moving into a position of control of over your emotions. When you catch yourself fruitlessly ruminating or getting caught in a negative mood, grab a pen and paper, and write down what you are thinking. This is known as emotional labeling.

Naming our feelings helps us create a language that we can use to discuss our state with others and gives us our own narrative to process. Get as specific as you can. For example, instead of labeling an emotion as just regret, think about whether you’re feeling sad, angry, envious, etc. When you identify negative emotions, you can better accept them and then manage them.

Practice gratitude: From a psychological point of view, the purpose of regret is to understand where we had control (and where we didn’t) and to learn from our experience. Granted, this comes with some level of pain about the past, about things you couldn’t achieve, but looking at the past with gratitude rather than the lost opportunity costs can make all the difference between getting stuck in the pain and growing from the learning.

For example, when you think, “I could have traveled to Japan last year,” change it to a statement of gratitude by saying, “I’m grateful that I live in a world where there are many experiences still to have, whether I am here or elsewhere.” Changing our focus to appreciate what we have is a practice we can all master and benefit from.

You could also keep a gratitude journal. When you find yourself slipping, write down three things you are grateful for. The more you practice gratitude, the more you will be aware of what you have and not what you don’t have.

Consider what you really want or value: When you feel hurt or sorrow or angst about the past, use the time to remind yourself what really matters in your life. Undoubtedly this will take us back to some of our core human needs like security and feeling loved.

For example, if you feel a sense of loss for missing out on family events through the pandemic, it could be evidence that you value family highly (not the event itself). If you feel angry about not getting that promotion, it may alert you of your need for growth (not necessarily that promotion).

Notice the themes of your regret so that you can start to draw a list of things that you know you must work toward to make your life fulfilling.


Looking Back: Reflecting On The Past To Understand The Present

All of us are time travelers. If we just pause and close our eyes we can wander back to our first kiss, or the summer that went on forever. This week, we explore two emotions that pull us into the past: regret and nostalgia. How can we make these feelings work for us, and what can we learn from them?

By some estimates, regret is the most common negative emotion in our everyday lives. At the Regret Lab at Miami University in Ohio, psychologist Amy Summerville has found that a big part of why we struggle with regret has to do with the idea of rumination. It's a word that comes from bovine digestion: for cows, it's the act of chewing, digesting and chewing again. And in terms of our thoughts, it's the same kind of process.

"We're chewing them over without actually getting anything new out of them," she says. "People who have ruminative regret tend to be the people who are experiencing the most negative outcomes." But Summerville says that while we tend to experience regret negatively, we can often recast those old "what if" moments in a more productive way. Her advice: Remember that it may not be all your fault. "You're just one agent in a bigger framework," she says.

Psychologist Clay Routledge studies nostalgia, that gentle tug of longing you feel when you hear a favorite song from your high school days, or even recall moments of hardship and loss. Routledge says that some of the most interesting nostalgic memories he has studied come from older British adults who were children during World War II, when Germany was bombing Great Britain.

Though many of them were sent to the countryside and separated from their families, he says these difficult memories "stripped away all the nonsense of life and reminded them how precious it is." He says that taking time to reminisce, even about the hard times, can help you rewrite the story of your life.

"There is a big element of nostalgia that isn't about us retreating to the past," he says. "It's about us pulling the past forward to the present, and using it to mobilize us, to energize us, to take on new challenges and opportunities."

Why Do We Feel Nostalgia? Clay Routledge's animated lesson on nostalgia for TED.

Nostalgia Is a Potent Political Agent — Routledge's article for Undark on why people crave the past when the present is distressing.


Three categories of negative emotions

Table 1: Differences in men and women’s feelings after sex. Click on the table to enlarge it. SHOW MORE

Researchers from Brazil, Norway and North America collaborated to investigate the topic. They received responses from four groups that formed the basis of the surveys, one from each region and a fourth group, chosen from Anglo-Americans who responded online. Sources from the US and Canada were merged into one, as the researchers found no difference between their responses. (See TABLE 1.)

The maximum age was set at 30 years. People’s sexual habits tend to change around that age, when many are in long-term relationships and the end of women’s reproductive age is drawing closer.

“We assumed that there were two or three main types of negative emotions after sex,” says Kennair.

1. LACK OF PROXIMITY: One type of negative feeling is when you want a stronger connection afterwards, where you feel rejected or want more closeness.
2. LACK OF DISTANCE:The second type of negative feeling is the opposite, where you want to leave afterwards and experience your sexual partner as clingy.

3. REPUTATION: A third form of negative emotion is where you feel regret because you worry about your reputation.

The maximum age was set to 30, because people’s sexual habits change over the years. Illustration: Thinkstock SHOW MORE

The third form of negative emotion is similar between men and women. Both men and women think about their reputation. A bad reputation can make you less attractive to other partners who may be a better fit for you in the long run than the person you just shared a bed or restaurant toilet with.

The main differences between the sexes can be found among those who want to leave and those who want the other to stay.