- Is it true that individuals often regret recent actions (i.e., last few months) but when they look back on their lives, they tend to regret things that they have not done (or lack of actions) ?
- If so, what causes this?
The classic reference for exactly what you are describing is Gilovich & Medvec, 1995 (LINK), the primary thesis of which is that "Actions, or errors of commission, generate more regret in the short term; but inactions, or errors of omission, produce more regret in the long run" (from the abstract). The authors explain that there are many factors that contribute to this general pattern; these factors are actually summarized quite nicely in their Table 3 below:
For a more complete description of these factors and a discussion of the relevant evidence, see the link I posted above to the Gilovich & Medvec paper.
- Gilovich, T. & Medvec, V.H. (1995). The experience of regret: what, when, and why. Psychological review, 102, 379. PDF