Living with regret? Disappointed about the direction your life has taken?
Well, then, it’s time to start making social comparisons. Yep, if you’re feeling low and full of regret, just take a look at the poor schlep next to you. Now SHE’s got problems.
Don’t bother to compare yourself to someone who’s doing well – that will only make you feel worse.
But if you make “downward social comparisons” you’ll feel a whole lot better, say Bigwigs from Concordia University in a new study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. And, the benefit isn’t just emotional.
People who compare themselves to those who are worse off also experience fewer cold symptoms.
Regrets cause emotional stress, says one of the study’s authors Carsten Wrosch, Ph.D. That stress “can trigger biological dysregulation of the hormone and immune system” making you more vulnerable to health problems.
So, take a good look at someone else’s misery – rather than giving any thought to your own – and you’ll start to feel better. Nice.
Still, I think a couple of things are missing here. First off, I think it’s unlikely that a cure for the common cold will be found in minding someone else’s business.
Secondly, I’m not sure it’s a terrible thing to live, for a little while, with the feelings of disappointment, embarrassment, and frustration that come from doing one thing when you should have done another. I mean I don’t LIKE it, but the uncomfortable emotions that come with regret can actually help you make better choices in the future. And, that would mean – in the long run – that you’ve lived a life of fewer regrets.
Regret usually surfaces, according to psychologist/author Todd Kashdan, Ph.D. when we “realize that our current situation might be better if we decided to act differently.”
If you immediately shift into coping with the bad feelings by making social comparisons you may just miss the opportunity to learn what went wrong in the first place. Recognizing the choices that you made that got you into the mess will also allow you to move on more mindfully and with the knowledge that next time you can do it differently. You get to grow. You get to not eat the 2 lb. burger that makes you sick – because you regret doing it the first time. Regret reminds us to recognize the consequences of our choices.
Feeling bad that you turned on the television rather than playing Candyland with the kid? Well, then next time that regret might just remind you to step away from the remote and go for the gumdrops.
Regret that the marriage didn’t work out? You may use those feelings as a prompt to look at what went wrong and go forward with greater knowledge about what you want and need in a healthy relationship.
Sorry you quit that complete-with-stock-options job at that little start-up called Microsoft? Well, yeah, can’t help you there. But, did you hear about the guy in the corner pub? Talk about problems…
**This post appeared previously at Psychology Today