Work, play and the vagaries of regret

The New York Times has a piece on thought-provoking research suggesting that while we are glad we resisted the temptation to party in the short-term, in the long-term we regret the missed opportunity for enjoyment.

They say that no-one on their death bed says “I wish I’d spent more time in the office”. A study by Ran Kivetz and Anat Keinan seems to suggest that this attitude holds, even over shorter periods of time.

Kivetz interviewed 63 subjects and asked half of them to recall a time in the previous week when they had to choose between work or pleasure ‚Äî and then to rank how they felt about their decision on a scale from “no regret at all” to “a lot of regret.” Then Kivetz asked the other half to do the same for a similar decision five years in the past. When the moment in question was a week before, those who worked industriously reported that they were glad they had. Those who partied said they regretted it. But when the subjects considered the decision from five years in the past, the propositions reversed: those who toiled regretted it; those who relaxed were happy with their choice.

They suggest that this occurs because time dulls what they call ‘indulgence guilt’, but accentuates the feeling of ‘missing out’.

Guilt, it seems, is more of an emotional reaction that is tempered in hindsight, whereas the feeling of ‘missing out’ is a more reflective reaction based on a longer-view of the preceding years.

The moral of the story is, er… party now, or, alternatively try and get a job you enjoy.

The researchers’ paper, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, is available online as a pdf file.

Link to NYT article.
pdf of paper ‘Repenting Hyperopia: An Analysis of Self-Control Regrets’.

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