Journal of Adult Development

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 281–288 | Cite as

Regrets and Subjective Well-Being: A Life Course Approach

  • Markku Jokisaari


The aim of the study was to examine age and gender differences in the contents of regrets, and the association between regrets and subjective well-being. The sample consisted of 176 participants ranging in age from 19 to 82 years. The results showed that young adults (19–29 years) named regrets related to relationships and leisure more often than middle-aged (30–54 years) and older adults (55–82 years), whereas regrets related to work and family were more salient among middle-aged and older adults. Furthermore, gender comparison revealed that regrets concerning relationships and family were more frequent among women than among men. Related to subjective well-being, results showed that regrets concerning education and work were negatively associated with life satisfaction, and depressive symptoms associated with self-related regrets.

regrets unattained goals life course subjective well-being 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Agresti, A. (1990). Categorical data analysis.New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  2. Aiken, L., & West, S. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and Interpreting interactions. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Baltes, P., Cornelius, S., & Nesselroade, J. (1979). Cohort effects in developmental psychology. In J. Nesselroade & P. Baltes (Eds.), Longitudinal research in the study of behavior and development(pp. 61-87). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  4. Beck, A. T., Ward, C. H., Mendelsohn, M., Mosck, L., & Erlaugh, J. (1961). An inventory for measuring depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 4,561-571.Google Scholar
  5. Brandtstädter, J., & Renner, G. (1990). Tenacious goal pursuit and flexible goal adjustment: Explication and age-related analysis of assimilative and accommodative strategies of coping. Psychology and Aging, 5,58-67.Google Scholar
  6. Cantor, N., Norem, J., Niedenthal, P., Langston, C., & Brower, A. (1987). Life-tasks, self-concept ideals and cognitive strategies in a life transition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychol-ogy, 53,1178-1191.Google Scholar
  7. Cantor, N., & Zirkel, S. (1990). Personality, cognition, and purpo-sive behavior. In L. Pervin (Ed.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research(pp. 135-164). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  8. Cross, S., & Madson, L. (1997). Models of the self: Self-construals and gender. Psychological Bulletin, 122,5-37.Google Scholar
  9. Cross, S., & Markus, H. (1991). Possible selves across the life span. Human Developmen, 34,230-255.Google Scholar
  10. DeMaris, A. (1992). Logit modeling: Practical applications.Sage University Paper series on Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences, Series No. 07-086. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Diener, E., Emmons, R., Larsen, R., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49,71-75.Google Scholar
  12. Diener, E., & Fujita, F. (1995). Resources, personal strivings, and subjective well-being: A nomothetic and idiographic approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38,668-678.Google Scholar
  13. Emmons, R. (1986). Personal strivings: An approach to personality and subjective well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51,1058-1068.Google Scholar
  14. Emmons, R., & King, L. (1988). Conflict among personal strivings: Immediate and long-term implications for psychological and physical well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54,1040-1048.Google Scholar
  15. Fleeson, W., & Baltes, P. (1998). Beyond present-day personality assessment: An encouraging exploration of the measurement properties and predictive power of subjective lifetime personality. Journal of Research in Personality, 32,411-430.Google Scholar
  16. Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development. Cambridge, MA: Harward University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Gilovich, T., & Medvec, V. (1994). The temporal pattern to the experience of regret. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67,357-365.Google Scholar
  18. Havighurst, R. (1973). Developmental tasks and education(3rd Ed.). New York: McKay. (Original work published 1948).Google Scholar
  19. Heckhausen, H., & Kuhl, J. (1985). From wishes to action: The dead ends and short cuts on the long way to action. In M. Frese & J. Sabini (Eds.), Goal directed behavior: The concept of action in psychology(pp. 134-159). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  20. Jokisaari, M. (2003). Regret appraisals, age, and subjective well-being. Journal of Research in Personality, 37,487-503.Google Scholar
  21. Karniol, R., & Ross, M. (1996). The motivational impact of tem-poral focus: Thinking about the future and the past. Annual Review of Psychology, 47,593-620.Google Scholar
  22. Kinnier, R., & Metha, A. (1989). Regrets and priorities at three stages in life. Counseling and Values, 33,182-193.Google Scholar
  23. Klinger, E. (1975). Consequences of commitment to and disengagement from incentives. Psychological Review, 82,1-25.Google Scholar
  24. Kohli, M. (1985). Die Institutionalisierung des Lebenslaufs: Historische Befunde und Theoretische Argumente [Institution-alization of the life course: Historical observations and the-oretical arguments]. Kölner Zeitschrift f ür Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, 37,1-29.Google Scholar
  25. Kuhl, J., & Helle, P. (1986). Motivational and volitional determinants of depression: the degenerated-intention hypothesis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95,247-251.Google Scholar
  26. Landman, J. (1993). Regret: The persistence of the possible.New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Landman, J., Vandewater, E., & Malley, J. (1995). Missed opportu-nities: Psychological ramifications of counterfactual thought in midlife women. Journal of Adult Development, 2,87-97.Google Scholar
  28. Lecci, L., Okun, M., & Karoly, P. (1994). Life regrets and current goals as predictors of psychological adjustment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66,731-741.Google Scholar
  29. Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41,954-969.Google Scholar
  30. Martin, L., & Tesser, A. (1989). Toward a motivational and struc-tural theory of ruminative thought. In J. Uleman & J. Bargh (Eds.), Unintended thought(pp. 306-326). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  31. Mayer, K. (1986). Structural constraints on the life course. Human Development, 29,163-170.Google Scholar
  32. McIntosh, W., & Martin, L. (1992). The cybernetics of happiness: The relation of goal attainment, rumination, and affect. In M. S. Clark (Ed.), Review of personality and social psychology(Vol. 14, pp. 222-246). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  33. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Parker, L., & Larson, J. (1994). Ruminative coping with depressed mood following loss. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67,92-104.Google Scholar
  34. Nurmi, J.-E. (1992). Age differences in adult life goals, concerns, and their temporal extension: Alife course approach to future-oriented motivation. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 15,487-508.Google Scholar
  35. Nurmi, J.-E. (1997). Self-definition and mental health during adolescence and young adulthood. In J. Schulenberg, J. Maggs, & K. Hurrelmann (Eds.), Health risks and developmental transitions during adolescence(pp. 395-419). Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Palys, T. S., & Little, B. R. (1983). Perceived life satisfaction and the organization of personal project systems. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44,1221-1230.Google Scholar
  37. Pervin, L. (Ed.). (1989). Goal concepts in personality and social psychology.Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  38. Salmela-Aro, K. (1992). Struggling with self: The personal projects of students seeking psychological counseling. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 33,330-338.Google Scholar
  39. Schulz, R., & Heckhausen, J. (1996). Alife-span model of successful aging. American Psychologist, 51,702-714.Google Scholar
  40. Settersten, R., Jr., & Mayer, K. (1997). The measurement of age, age structuring, and the life course. Annual Review of Sociology, 23,233-261.Google Scholar
  41. Strough, J., Berg, C., & Sansone, C. (1996). Goals for solving every-day problems across the life span: Age and gender differences in the salience of interpersonal concerns. Developmental Psychology, 32,1106-1115.Google Scholar
  42. Tabachnick, B., & Fidell, L. (1996). Using multivariate statistics(3rd Ed.). New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  43. Trapnell, P., & Campbell, J. (1999). Private self-consciousness and the five-factor model of personality: Distinguishing rumination from reflection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76,284-304.Google Scholar
  44. Wrosch, C., & Heckhausen, J. (1999). Control processes before and after passing a developmental deadline: Activation and deactivation of intimate relationship goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77,415–427.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Markku Jokisaari
    • 1
  1. 1.Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Department of PsychologyUniversity of JyväskyläFinland

Personalised recommendations