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What Do 90-Somethings Regret Most?

I have always found it interesting to hear what people who are in the later part of their lives have to say about the lessons they've learned. I often find their stories simple yet profound.

I recently read an interesting article by Lydia Sohn titled, "What Do 90-Somethings Regret Most?"

Lydia talked about conversations she has had with people in their 90s. When asked about the happiest moments in their lives, every one of them, all of whom were widowed, recalled a time when their spouses were still alive and their children were younger and living at home. While those were certainly busy times, they all agreed without a doubt that those days were also the happiest.

Their responses contradicted a well-known article on happiness in The Economist, “The U-bend of Life.” This theory states that happiness, pleasure, and enjoyment are most tenuous during the middle ages of life, starting in our 20s with depression peaking at age 46. The happiness of youth returned and was experienced at higher levels in subjects’ 70s. Researchers hypothesized that we become more self-accepting, less ambitious, and more mindful of living in the present moment (instead of the future) as we approach our 70s.

The 90-somethings' responses came as a strong reminder to Sohn to fully appreciate and soak in those chaotic days of diaper changes, messiness, and minimal me-time. They may just end up being her happiest moments.

Being old brings a lot of advantages: more time, more perspective, less hustling to be the best and most successful, and an urgency to strengthen the important relationships in your life.

The strong relationship-based orientation of all the subjects' responses surprised Sohn. She said that when she imagines her own future, she envisions her accomplishments rather than the quality of her interactions with those important to her.

The 90-somethings emphasized the opposite when they looked back on their lives. Their joys and regrets had nothing to do with their careers, but with their parents, children, spouses, and friends. 

Put simply, when she asked one person, “Do you wish you accomplished more?” He responded, “No, I wished I loved more.”

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