Pranesh Srinivasan

Data. Hacks. Opinions.


Consider any decision that can either be taken or not taken1 and the outcome of this decision to either be good or bad2.

Good Outcome
Bad Outcome
Decision Taken
Decision Not Taken

1 and 4 are the easy cases - much good was had, and much sadness was avoided.

2 leads to a feeling of disappointment, with much time spent on focusing on the outcome. 3 leads to regret, with much time spent on focusing on the personal choices and a desire to have done something differently. These two feelings are not the same3 and while the relative magnitude of these feelings is of course a function of personal outlook, studies4 do show that dealing with regret is harder5.

When faced with hard decisions, boiling them down to dealing with disappointment (if things do not work out) versus dealing with regret (if things worked out and one had not chosen) has always given me more clarity.

  1. In the real world, decisions can also be partially taken.
  2. Of course, there will be a lot of subjectivity in such a labelling. What classifies and good as opposed to bad is a function of mental outlook, risk profile, and optimism.
  3. Zeelenberg(1998) discusses how regret leads to different future behaviour from disappointment.
  4. More recently, in 2009, a study by Hannah Faye, Richard Gonzalez et al showed how regret led to a greater magnitude of negative feelings and a higher probability to change a previous decision.
  5. There is also a geographical element to this. In The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar describes how some cultures find it easier to reconcile with choices than others. Particularly autonomous cultures place the emphasis on an incorrect choice on the individual while more subservient cultures tend to be more forgiving of wrong decisions.