“You’re worried about how you’re going to feel at the end of your life? What about right now? Live. Right this minute. That’s where the joy is at!” ~Abigail Thomas
The Huffington Post republished an article from Collective Evolution entitled, “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” and I’ve decided to create a blog post about the ones that really speak to me, delving further into the how these regrets exist in our lives today, but are suppressed until the promise of living no longer exists. We each have the power to make changes in our lives now so that we can live the life we truly want – without doubts or judgments or regrets. The top 5 regrets as noted in the article include:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
The #5 regret on the list is, “I wish I had let myself be happier.” Although it is the last regret on this list, this is the one that rings true for the life coach inside of me. It’s the one with the most opportunity for introspection and growth that can lead to greater joy and fulfillment in our lives.
All of us have 2 different sides to ourselves. We each have the logical, rational, mostly ego-driven side of ourselves that tells us that you have to work hard and struggle to get what you want. It tells us that anything that brings us absolute pleasure is indulgent and that we’re far too busy, important, or undeserving, to think that we can have a life filled with happiness.
But that other side of us is the one that rolls around in the joy like a puppy in springtime, thrives on everything that makes us throw our heads back and literally laugh out loud. That’s the side of us that gets suppressed for the majority of our adult lives so that we can be responsible, accountable and in control. It’s the side that doesn’t see the light very often because fear likes to keep it trapped behind a wall of lies and guilt.
Certainly, there are times when our jobs can be a struggle. But I think sometimes we admire and glamorize this idea of “The Struggle.” We think that The Struggle is what’s important because that’s where we gain our identity and value. It’s how we earn our living, it can be how we define ourselves and it’s how we care for and show love to our families. If it’s a really big job with a lot of responsibility, a big budget and a lot of work, then we make that mean that we’re a really big deal. We admire the strength of being able to persevere no matter what comes our way. And if we don’t have to struggle for it, then it’s either not worth having or we don’t deserve it, right?
Somewhere along my own path I latched onto this idea that in order for me to be successful and have all that I wanted in life that I had to always be striving and struggling, working hard to reach that next level in corporate America. I wouldn’t let myself slow down and I thought what I did was pretty important (let’s be clear: I was in marketing, so I largely sent junk mail for a living). The next promotion, the next company, the next pay raise, the next upgrade in what I drive and my next handbag never filled me up – at least not for very long. That’s because anything that feeds the ego will never satisfy your soul.
I find it interesting that the regret listed in the article isn’t, I wish I was happier but rather it is that I wish I had allowed myself to be happier. That implies that we know our path to happiness, but don’t give ourselves permission to do the things that bring us joy.
We don’t give ourselves that permission to be happy because we’re too afraid of what people will think. We fear what other people will think of us if we actually just did more of what made us happy in life. We fear being judged, being thought of as irresponsible or lazy.
We don’t give ourselves permission to be happy because we’ve created this idea that life is supposed to be difficult and that if we opt-out of the rat-race and struggle that we won’t have enough money, success, power, the big house, a fancy car…whatever. That’s just fear talking. (By the way, it’s been proven that happy people are more successful than unhappy people.)
We think that we’ll have time to do all the things that make us happy someday……just not today. I’ll make the time for the things I love when I retire or when I lose 10 lbs or when my house is paid off or when I get that promotion or when I find the love of my life. But that someday never comes because the wave of fears has never subsided. There’s always at least one fear in waiting telling you why “you can’t.”
Maybe we don’t give ourselves permission to be happy because we don’t truly believe that we’re enough just as we are. It’s fear that tells us that we’re not enough; but fear is a liar. Showing up and doing our best each day, trying to get better and grow into the best version of ourselves each day – that’s enough. And although that’s not easy to do, it could be that small opening we need to give ourselves permission to do the things that bring us happiness.
What does happiness mean to you? What would that look like in your life? Playing with your kids? Sharing a glass of wine outside with someone you love talking about your day? Cooking a meal for family? Taking a yoga class? Gardening? Reading a book with a cup of tea and a blanket wrapped around you? Taking a bubble bath? Going for a walk? It doesn’t have to be anything grand or expensive, it just has to be real for you. And then you have to make the choice to do more of that thing which brings you happiness.
I remember the last meal I had with my ex-husband before we separated. We were at a small restaurant with another couple we were visiting in Michigan. The restaurant was in an old house, and we were sitting upstairs in a small room where there were only about three other tables. The home had a Victorian style with tables covered in an older, damask-patterned vinyl tablecloth, and the walls were lined with floral wallpaper. My husband and friends all seemed to have a great deal to talk about, but I wasn’t really listening. I remember being very distracted by a piece of artwork on the wall, which I’ve since learned is called The Hardest of Easy Choices, by Rodney White. Some of the letters to the phrase are cut off so that it’s not so literal, but it is easy to decipher what it says:
Most people seek happiness, when happiness is actually a choice.
Along this journey, there are many choices that we make daily. We can make the choice to live a happy life. We can choose to not believe that we have to live in the daily struggle. We can make the choice to allow ourselves to be the silly, joyful one rolling around in the freshly cut grass, basking in the sunshine, singing at the top of our lungs – not giving two craps about what anyone else may think. This I know: We simply were not meant to live a life without joy.
Know that the fears or thoughts we’ve created in our minds aren’t actually true. You can choose to not believe those fears. Give yourself permission to be happy. Not someday, not in 10 years, but right now!