I wish I’d let myself be happier.
This is the fifth regret of the dying as reported by Bronnie Ware in her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” Few people discover that happiness is a choice, not an event. In reality happiness is a byproduct of involvement in tasks that one deeply enjoys. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his classic work refers to the experience of deep happiness in terms of “flow”. “Flow” describes being unified with one’s environment, fully engaged and involved in an interesting task or project so much so that time and space disappear and all that remains is pure experience. He refers to these as “peak experiences” and those who have had such times recall them as being very enjoyable, creating a longing for more. The experience of flow is allowing oneself to be happy. This is a learned skill and one that can be taught. Here’s an example.
My friend, a young father, was reporting to me on work we had been doing together on assisting a younger generation to be responsible and doing for self rather than having problems solved for them. His son, age three, came to him and asked him to help him get up on a shelf in order to get something for his mother. “Dad, I need to get this thing off the shelf and I can’t reach it”. This wise father asked his son “How do you think you can get it?”
The first response was “I don’t know” to which the father replied “Think about it.”
After a few moments of thinking the son stated “I can move that chair over to the shelf and then climb up on the chair and get what I need!” The father affirmed him and so the little boy dragged the chair over to the right spot and then climbed up and got the item. He ran off with it to his mother.
Soon he returned. “Now I have to put it back” he told his father. “Well, what should you do to do that?” asked his father, and the little boy dragged the chair back to its original place, put his hand on his chin and tried to think again about the process of solving this problem.
I hope you get the point. The little boy had enjoyed solving the problem so much the first time that he want to re-experience the joy of discovery, the peak experience of learning to do new things that comprise almost all play of children.
The sadness for us as adults is that we lose the joy of learning, of experimenting, of trying new things, fully aware that most things we try will not solve the problem, but knowing that joy is in the learning. Constant learning is choosing to be happier.
Happiness becomes a choice for me in terms of how I choose to face situations. I can choose to be happy in any circumstance as I discipline myself to discover the learning moment. It is in that moment that I become childlike again and discover new ways of solving problems. This happiness is available to all of us, no matter what age, no matter what stage of life.
Choose to be happy and remove one of the major regrets of the dying. This is living life without regrets.
Task for today: Write of a time when you had a “peak experience.” Did you find the moment enjoyable?
I will wrap up this series in the next post.