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Hidden Brain

Why We Can't Shake Life's 'Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda' Moments

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Hong Li, Getty Images

Everyone has regrets. You probably have a few of them. By some estimates, regret is the most common negative emotion that we talk about, and the second-most common emotion mentioned in our daily lives.

Amy Summerville is a professor of psychology who runs the Regret Lab at Miami University in Ohio. She says a big part of why we struggle with regret has to do with the idea of rumination.

"Rumination is having thoughts spring unwanted to mind and we're chewing them over without actually getting anything new out of them, they're just repeatedly, intrusively, becoming part of our mental landscape. What we've found is that people who have ruminative regret, tend to be the people who are experiencing the most negative outcomes."

But Summerville says that while some people experience regret negatively, it's actually one of the more hopeful emotions.

In this episode of Hidden Brain, we hear regrets from our listeners, talk about different kinds of regret, and explore why we keep coming back to these feelings over the years.

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Read More:

"Repetitive Regret, Depression, and Anxiety: Findings from a Nationally Representative Survey," Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology: Vol. 28, No. 6, pp. 671-688.

"The Regret Elements Scale: Distinguishing the affective and cognitive components of regret," Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 11, No. 3, May 2016, pp. 275-286

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, by Barry Schwartz

"When less is more: Counterfactual thinking and satisfaction among Olympic medalists," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(4), 603-610.

The Hidden Brain Podcast is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Rhaina Cohen, Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Parth Shah, Renee Klahr, and Gabriela Saldivia. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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