How Much Would You Pay To Avoid Regret?

Imagine a life where fear is not a problem. You are constantly trying new things and you laugh in the face of danger. You are not looking back, so the last thing you worry about is regret.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

What do you think that experience would cost? How much would you pay to avoid regret?

Dr. Hi Po Bobo Lau from the University of Hong Kong set out to find that answer.

Lau created a study in which he asked participant a series of questions in order for them to establish a particular feeling. Rather than try and force the subjects to feel a certain way, he wanted to create that feeling naturally.

For example, in order to create excitement, he asked the participants to spend some time and recall an experience where they were very excited. He then asked how much each participant would be willing to spend (between $2 and $200) to recreate that feeling.

This is what Dr. Lau’s subjects were willing to pay:

  • $44.30 for calm tranquility
  • $62.80 for excitement
  • $79.06 for happiness
  • $83.27 to avoid fear
  • $92.80 to avoid sadness
  • $99.81 to avoid embarrassment
  • $106.26 to avoid regret
  • $113.55 for love

On the surface, it seems odd that we would pay $27.20 more to avoid regret than we would for happiness. But if you think about it, it actually makes sense.

My brothers and I are big Arizona State University football fans. When ASU has a huge win, we typically get celebratory milkshakes. Nothing tastes better after a big win than a frosty chocolate milkshake.

When ASU has a huge loss, we typically get sadness milkshakes. Nothing takes the sting out of a big loss like an ice-cold milkshake.

The milkshakes add to our joy or they brighten our sorrow. Either way, we spend about $3 to increase our happiness.

If ASU advanced to play in the National Championship game, I would regret not trying to go to the game. Win or lose, that regret would stay with me for a long time.

It would probably take about 100 milkshakes to shake that feeling.

As I wrote about last week, people regret not taking action more than they regret taking action. This is because if we make a decision and it goes horribly wrong, we can still console ourselves by feeling that we learned a lesson. We tell ourselves that some good can come out of the bad decision.

But when we do not make a decision, or do not take action, we are not left with a lesson to be learned. All we are left with is regret and the question of what could have been.

Dr. Lau’s study suggests that we would be willing to pay $106.26 to avoid regret. I’ve got a cheaper solution…just take action. And if it goes terribly wrong, you will only be out about $3 on a milkshake.

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