I recently read an article written by a hospice worker about the regrets that people have when they are dying. Among the top five regrets the hospice worker listed was that people wish they had “allowed themselves to be more happy.” That’s a curious regret, and perhaps an all-encompassing one that covers all the others; like not spending enough time with one’s children when they were young, or not traveling more, or spending too much time at work and not enough time with family and friends, or not pursuing a passion for photography more aggressively, and so forth. Because all of those other regrets are about not allowing oneself to make the adjustments necessary to be more happy.
But the other part, the biggest part, of not allowing oneself to be more happy has to do with recognizing and appreciating what one has received and what one has accomplished. It seems to me that people who regret not allowing themselves to be more happy are people who recognize as they are dying that they did not count their blessings often enough, did not pause to be grateful for all the good things, the beautiful things, in their lives. Furthermore, I think that accomplishment is an underappreciated value for many people. The American Dream (and, as George Carlin says, “you have to be asleep to believe it”) dictates an image of success based on money, power, and large brush strokes. So people in this country tend to think of themselves as “ordinary,” or failures, or someone who didn’t accomplish much if they didn’t invent the Internet, discover a new element on the Periodic Table, win American Idol, play pro-football, or make a million dollars. People don’t give themselves credit for their accomplishments, the real accomplishments, such as raising good children, working for 40 years as a third-grade teacher, putting a smile on the face of customers as a grocery store cashier for 30 years, making beautiful gardens, planting trees, learning to recognize birds by their songs, being a good friend; well, I’m sure that you can think of a million more, you can see where I’m going with this. Enough said.
This is what I want to say to anyone reading today’s blog: Remember to give yourself permission to be happy. Don’t time-travel in your head as much, wistfully remembering the good old days now long gone, or imagining the future. Settle in the present more often and appreciate your contribution, the good work you have done so far. It matters. It makes a difference.