We introduce a novel concept of the ‘ease of experience’ of emotions, which captures individuals’ subjective perception of how easily they feel they can intentionally experience a desired positive emotion. Study 1 compared lay-persons’ beliefs in the ease of experiencing positive emotion in two cultural contexts (US and Japan, N = 226) and found significant variations in the ease of experiencing various positive emotions, across prior negative contexts and culture. Study 2 experimentally tested the ease of recalling positive experiences by manipulating the prior negative context and targeted positive emotion (US only, N = 1097). Depending on context, the regulatory goal as determined by the assigned positive emotion condition had differential results on the participants’ overall mood or well-being. However, the variations of ease did not match up with lay-person beliefs as identified in Study 1. This gap in lay beliefs and ‘actual’ ease of experience has implications on how individuals should set emotional goals.