Life Opportunity #5: Deciding for Joy

recently spoke to a group of young adults (and their teachers/family/friends) at their high school graduation. I’ve written beforeabout Bronnie Ware’s The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. These themes are also echoed within the walls of our therapy offices at Bergen and Associates every day, and whispered to each other in The Daring Way™ groups that I offer regularly. And I thought to myself…”What if, instead of uttering these regrets on their death beds decades from now, these students would be able to proactively address these concerns as opportunities starting now, at the beginning of their adult lives. What if, they–and maybe others too–would shape their lives so as to avoid these end-of-life regrets?” 

So…I gave my take on each of the 5 regrets turned 5 opportunities. Join us to consider proactively living the life that aligns with the one you want to live? A 5 part series, from the talk, adjusted for a wider audience. With thanx to Bronnie Ware

Opportunity #5: Deciding for Joy

Bronnie Ware’s client expressed this in their last days: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” 

The world is a great place, but also an uncertain and scary place.  No grades are guaranteed, no love is certain to last forever, no loved one is safe from any harm always.  If you live in this world, particularly if you live bravely and boldly, you will experience failure, rejection, and hurt.

The temptation for us all is to prepare ourselves for those inevitable disappointments in life by beating vulnerability to the punch.  It can seem easier to live in state of general disappointment than to avoid the thundering crash of falling into being deeply disappointed.


  • a guy can think, “There’s no point in asking her out, she’ll probably say no anyway.”
  • a student can think, “I won’t do well on this test, so I won’t even try studying.”
  • a woman can decide: “Why apply for the promotion? I’m not gonna get it anyways”
  • a family can determine: “We probably won’t have the money for vacation.  Or the weather will be bad.  Or someone will be sick. Or it will be a lot of work. Let’s not go anywhere (even though we’d love to)”

This is rehearsing tragedy: Parents, you know that moment when your son/daughter is a few minutes late coming home and you start wondering what songs should be sung at his funeral? I don’t think I’m the only one. (And when I gave my talk at the graduation, there was nervous laughter–there were many in the crowd that were so busted.)

Have you ever sabotaged plans for something good in order to protect yourself, in case it doesn’t turn out?

There can be a carefulness to not get too happy so we won’t become too disappointed—that is known as foreboding joy…a way to reduce the uncertainty of life by expecting it to go badly, or not even letting ourselves try so it doesn’t have a chance.


<style=”margin: .1pt 0cm .1pt 0cm;”>While foreboding joy protects us from disappointment, it also shields us from the thrills and delights of throwing ourselves into an experience and riding the wave of life for all its worth.

<style=”margin: .1pt 0cm .1pt 0cm;”>And when there are times of disappointment, and there always are, not only does foreboding joy not actually protect us from the pain, it doesn’t allow us to develop reserves that give us what we need to make it through difficult times.

style=”margin: .1pt 0cm .1pt 0cm;”>Research says that the antidote to foreboding joy is gratitude.

We can soften into joy with using gratitude, rather than staying hard in anticipation of fear. 

One of the most assuring lines and oft repeated lines in the Christian Bible is, “Do not be afraid.”…a sort of soothing lullaby line throughout Scripture. I firmly believe that we are at our most brave when we are also scared, that we show courage even while we feel terror.

Its easy to see the problems in life – the hurdles and the fears…but thanksgiving reminds us of another way of seeing.  Some of you will take Intro to Psychology this fall, and in your text you will see this picture:

 Silhouette of men and goblets found on comments section of a website with no copyright notice on it. Optical illusion…perspective is important.

What do you see?  Do some of you see a goblet? Some of you see two faces? Usually our eyes are immediately drawn to one of those first.  But if you give yourself a minute, you can probably see both.

Shift…from seeing the goblet to the silhouettes and back again.  Thats what gratitude does…it reminds us of goodness and generosity and beauty and kindness even in the middle of an uncertain or difficult situation. 

Studies have shown over and over and over again, that keeping a daily gratitude journal listing 3-5 things that you are grateful for will increase your level of happiness by 25%. Being grateful changes the neurochemistry of your brain. Gratitude reminds us of the whole picture in ways that help us stay present with the world and engage with it from a place of worthiness.

Living with gratitude, living authentically…all of it, requires courage.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can

Writer/activist Maya Angelou, who died in May, said that courage is the most important virtue, because without it, no other virtue can be practiced consistently.

Live fully alive…listen to your inner voice, align your behavior to your values, notice the things that are important to you.  Pay attention. Draw on your courage to dare bravely…do and say important things even though they are terrifying and there is no guarantee of success. Fail magnificently. Let the knowledge of love and the connection you have with others, provide you with a bedrock of courage.

Ted Geddert quoted Buechner on his closing slide at TEDx Manitoba last month.  I love the whole quote…here is a portion:

 The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn


For a window into the other regrets/opportunities, check the “5 opportunity” series…Opportunity #1: To be AuthenticOpportunity #2: To work wellOpportunity #3: To express your feelings, and Opportunity #4 Have Good Friends. Share with your friends!

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