We have reached my final week of my series inspired by the the book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, a compilation of the stories of longtime caregiver to the dying, Bronnie Ware. 

The book is stirs up thoughts on how we can ensure that we show up fully for our limited time here on earth. This series highlights some connections to how we can be mindful of the regrets that Ware identifies, as we focus on ways we can dream and set meaningful goals. 

If you missed them, go back and read the last several weeks’ messages inspired by Ware’s first four regrets. 

Regret #5: I Wish I Would’e Allowed Myself to Be Happy 

This one seems simple, doesn’t it? Of course we all “allow” ourselves to be happy… right

I mean, why wouldn’t we? 

Well… in addition to the fact that circumstances that are completely out of our control can negatively impact how we look at the world, there are also a lot of things that we have, or do, that get in our way of feeling happy. Reacting to control, fear, trauma, expectations, or judgement are just a few. It is also common to be very happy in specific parts of our lives while unhappy in others. This can feel confusing, presenting a challenge to identifying as feeling fully happy. Our identity might be wrapped up in being a victim, or even being an unhappy person. And, while our culture is constantly drowning us with messaging that we “deserve nothing but happiness,” there is still a stigma associated with showing too much joy. 

If you struggle to allow yourself to experience happiness, I highly recommend you explore this further with a professional. But, contrary to what the world tells us, we should not strive for an unachievable goal of constant happiness. Alternatively, we should not settle with the thought that we cannot be happy any of the time

Goal-setting can be an experience that brings much happiness, in the journey as well as the destination. But, like life, it is unrealistic and damaging to think that if the goal is the “right” one you will feel happy all of the time. We experience challenges daily, but goals are the chosen ones.  

As we start to explore this idea, I want to go back to the idea of allowing ourselves to be happy. Our culture tells us that we should expect “happy” to be our baseline. Anything against it is outside of the way things are supposed to be. This is absolutely false. Humans are dynamic creatures who are meant to feel a myriad of emotions. And, in order to feel happy, we also have to be open to feeling all of the rest. We aren’t just simply victims of all things that take us away from this baseline. We need to define, experience, focus on, and create awareness around our own happiness— just like we do with regulating the rest. 

Can you allow yourself to make goals that the fulfilling process gives you feelings of happiness?

How to experience happiness in goal setting and actualizing: 

Identify what happy feels like to you. What is happening in your body when you feel happy? Pause in those moments. Acknowledge the feeling. Capture any thoughts you may have that urge you to move past it quickly. Oftentimes, this is a fear and/or control response. We don’t want to be surprised when something happens that breaks our happiness, so we will do so by proactively sabotaging the moment. (AKA- waiting for the other shoe to drop)

Dream big. If thinking about a goal gives you feelings that you identify as happy, then don’t be afraid to put the plans in place to go after it. Don’t make yourself smaller, or squash your dreams out of fear. The risk will likely be worth it. And if it is not, then you will pivot and try something else next time. 

In times of unhappiness, make small changes to your perspective by reframing failure, and/or focusing on gratitude. 

But, stay away from toxic positivity. In addition to the other issues in leaning into toxic positivity, pretending to be happy about something will only dilute the potential for real joy. Allow yourself time to process your unhappiness, and the space to truly feel all negative emotion. Honesty reflect in, and after, these moments to examine whether or not you want to stay on your goal journey. 

Establish and find methods to remind yourself of why you made the goal in the first place. Most of the time, brief moments of unhappiness are worth it when working toward a goal, and it helps to be able to direct yourself back to this foundational truth. You might have to consider what you really want, versus what you want right now

Set micro goals and celebrate small wins. This will help you allow yourself to be happy through the process, rather than waiting for the outcome.   

Share your joy with others. Find those people who will allow you to be you, and then be the person who exclaims how happy you are— rather than participating in the more societally supported bond over shared despair. Be giddy. Give big hugs. Dance. Sing. Show your happiness! 

I love feeling happy. As I have opened up to feeling all of my emotions, I no longer take it for granted. I hope we can all keep finding ways to allow ourselves to feel the fullness of it, in goal setting and beyond.