By: Kimberly Sharp, MFTI
DBT Therapist
Resilience Treatment Center

What makes a life worth living? What makes a life worth living for you? This is one of the first questions we ask clients who participate in our individual DBT skills sessions at Resilience Treatment Center. For some, it can mean having a career that is meaningful and allows for financial independence. For others, it can mean waking up with an overall sense of peace and contentment in the morning. Still others, it can mean being able to be yourself while interacting comfortably with others. The idea is to come up with goals that for lack of a better expression, make your heart sing. What makes you want to get up in the morning and engage with your life?

Believe it or not, being able to envision a positive and realistic future for ourselves is in itself a goal and skill. According to Dr. Charlie Swenson, M.D., DBT expert and trainer, the skill of articulating realistic goals that lead to a life worth living, is a part of the executive function part of our brain; the part of the brain that makes us uniquely human.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, was created by Marsha Linehan—a psychologist at the University of Washington—to help people who have suffered with chronic thoughts of suicide, have made multiple suicide attempts, or engaged in self-harming behaviors. The goal of participating in a DBT treatment program is to help people who are experiencing roller-coaster emotions to create a “life worth living.”

In reality, I think everyone could benefit from thinking about the things that make their life worth living, whether or not they experience roller-coaster emotions on a daily basis. It has been said that when people are dying, there are some common regrets that get expressed. A palliative care nurse recorded the most common regrets of the dying and put her findings into a book called “The Top Five Regrets of The Dying.” The number one regret was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” The second regret was, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” The third regret was, “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” The fourth regret was, “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” The fifth most common regret was, “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” If I think about all of these regrets as a DBT therapist, I wonder how much happier people would be if they came up with some life worth living goals. How many of these regrets would we really have if we came up with some life worth living goals of our own? I would argue, that through the articulation of life worth living goals plus the learning and practice of DBT skills, these regrets may be virtually non-existent for people.

Change, for many of us, can be quite difficult. Changing our thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviors for the better can be an even taller order. In order to make difficult change, we need to think about goals that are equally moving or inspiring, so that we motivate ourselves to make the change we wish to see for our lives.

So, what are your life worth living goals? What makes your heart sing?