I Wish I Had Let Myself be Happier

September 24, 2019

Not long ago I discovered a study by a woman named Bronnie Ware. She interviewed dying people, talking to them about their successes and regrets. It was very enlightening. The people who were in their final days and thought about their lives and choices had five most common regrets. Over the next few weeks I want us to consider these one at a time so we can make sure we don’t have the same regrets.

This is important because the health of our soul and mind is very important to the health of our bodies and the satisfaction we have in life. Bronnie listed as the fifth regret, “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” She says, “This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to themselves, that they were content, when deep within they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

That’s a paragraph worth reading several times. Wise Solomon agreed with them. “A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones (Proverbs 17:22). I like the New Living Translation even better: "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” Some health centers treat patients with laughter therapy because of the many benefits. It is reported to cut health-care costs, burn calories, help arteries, and boost blood flow. What a wonderful gift from God to all of us because happiness is most definitely a choice.

Carolyn Gregoire shares that one theory in psychology research suggests that we all have a happiness "set-point" that largely determines our overall wellbeing. We fluctuate around this set-point, becoming happier when something positive happens, or the opposite, afterward returning to a balance. But to a large extent this set-point can be reset. Although our general mood levels and wellbeing are partially determined by factors like genetics and upbringing, roughly 40 percent of our happiness is within our personal control, and a large body of research has shown that happiness is a choice that anyone can make. Psychologist William James said years ago, “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude." Since you CAN, isn’t that what you should do and will do?

Again, happiness is a choice. Whether we want to believe it or not, we are responsible for how happy we are. There is a lot of power in realizing that we are in charge of our own happiness. Our friends and family hopefully will be part of the team that adds to our happiness; they can be the cheering section, but we call the shots. Everyone has times when life hits hard and it is tremendously challenging to find the joy. In those moments someone telling you that happiness is a choice is likely the last thing you want to hear. But finding something to hold on to and choosing to find happiness will make all the difference in the world for the rest of your life. 

How do you take charge of your happiness?

  • Make an effort to be happy. It’s amazing what a little effort can do. Simply deciding to be happy and taking responsibility for listening to good music, employing positive self-talk, reading the Bible, and talking to God can go a long way toward elevating your spirits.
  • Set a daily goal to be happy. Whatever we work toward consistently, we generally achieve. Make the choices that go with your goals; be with people who also choose to be happy. Refuse to make easy choices that ultimately detract from your happiness. Keep the goal in mind.
  • Maximize the positive moments. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, says our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. We have a"negativity bias" (the Bible talks about our sinful nature) that causes the brain to react intensely to bad news and much less strongly to good news. This negativity bias triggers us to form stronger bad memories than good ones. We can counteract that tendency by appreciating and lingering on the small positive moments that occur. Hanson says we are surrounded by positive opportunities: 10 seconds here or 20 seconds there. We need to linger on them and appreciate them. 
  • Take a few daily moments to meditate on the good. For the Jesus follower, that could be part of your devotional life, quiet time, or whatever you call time with God. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8 that we should think about the things that are good and positive, and the God of peace will be with us. Peace and happiness are inextricably linked.
  • Smile. But not the “fake-it-till-you-make-it” variety. A Michigan State study showed that people who teach themselves to smile by thinking on positive things actually develop deep levels of happiness. On the other hand, people who engaged in fake smiles were more withdrawn and angrier.
  • Think compassionate thoughts. Again, research has shown that those who fill their minds purposely with compassionate thoughts have a higher degree of happiness.
  • Practice gratitude. Thankful people are happy people. They tend to appreciate the small things that are available to everyone.
  • Laugh more. Everyone has heard that laughter is the best medicine. That’s not just a fable. It actually decreases stress, decreases pain, increases immunity, increases oxygen flow. Research says that laughing for 15 minutes will burn 30-40 calories! That’s a good side benefit! If you can’t work out, you can still laugh.😊 Don't take life too seriously. We all make mistakes. If you can laugh at your own foibles, and chuckle at others more than criticize, you'll be a happier person. Many situations do have a ridiculous or humorous side to them. Find it and laugh over the things you can’t control. Recall funny memories every time you can and find your happiness level rise.
  • You can be happy. It’s a choice. Make sure you put your best effort into being a happy person. Don’t let it become one of your regrets.