So how much time and energy do you spend focused on your expectations?
A good working definition of expectations is planned disappointment. And expectations are directly correlated with happiness, or more aptly, unhappiness.
When what we expect to happen does not happen, we are disappointed and we suffer pain at some level. The greater the expectation, the greater the pain.
Ironically, we are also likely to be unhappy even when our expectations ARE met!
I shall explain.
We are most grateful for the good things that come our way that we did not expect to happen.
If you expect your spouse to help with the housework, you will be disappointed, mad, sad, or angry when your spouse does not help you with the housework, but you won’t necessarily be grateful when your spouse does help with the housework. Depending on your history together, you may be
- Pleased – “I’m glad we’re doing this together.”
- Surprised – “I can’t believe you actually mopped the floor!”
- Justified – “I do my share and you need to do your share.”
- Vindicated – “It’s about time you started pulling your weight!”
When you are dog tired at the end of the day, and you walk in to find your spouse cleaning the kitchen, or putting the kids to bed when you expected them to be home late – that’s when you feel truly grateful – because you were not expecting the help!
When you are truly grateful for something, you cannot help but feel happiness.
Gratitude is the key to happiness and anything that undermines gratitude must undermine happiness. And nothing undermines gratitude as much as expectations. The more expectations you have, the less gratitude you will have. ~ Dennis Prager
Expectations and gratitude are opposite sides of the same coin.
Where do our expectations come from?
Our expectations are the confused result of our reactions, our thoughts, and our emotional heritage. We confuse wants with needs, anticipation with expectation, loneliness with emptiness, touch with sex, talk with communication, ideals with reality, and self with relationships.
We confuse what we can get only from within ourselves with what we can get only from a relationship.
This confusion drives us to continually
- try to get from someone else what we can get only from ourselves,
- or try to get from ourselves what we can get only from a relationship.
No matter how hard or long we try, we will never be complete in this life.
We cannot be complete as an individual, and we cannot be complete by marrying or having children.
We cannot be completely secure emotionally nor can we know everything about any one thing.
When we are fixated on finding completeness in this life, we become so anxious that we either aim for absolute safety or we stay paralyzed for fear of not getting it [completeness].
The expectation that we can be complete and the desperate search for it leads people to attempt the impossible. The fantasy world is full of the illusion of completeness – which leads people to drugs, sex, alcohol, money, conflict, helplessness, power – all of the world’s ills.
We’re all a little lonely, we all feel some sense of inadequacy, some fear of failure – in other words, we all feel some emptiness.
This is a natural state of being, and in my Christian worldview, designed by God to draw us to Him.
Growing up – becoming emotionally mature – is all about how we handle the uncertainty – the incompleteness – of life. When we are able to accept and understand that this emptiness is a natural part of being human, we are on the path to a better life.
The less aware we are of our own emptiness, the more unrealistically we raise our level of expectations on others. High expectations become hypersensitive and emotionally reactive. So much focus is placed on what others are or are not doing that there is little time left for self-focus.
The more successfully we can lower our expectations of others, the more time we have to develop our personal sense of responsibility – and the more effort we put into living up to our personal responsibilities, the more we experience responsibility as joy and fulfillment.
Unhappiness is trading what we want most for what we want now.
We want whatever makes us uncomfortable – our anxieties, our insecurities, our challenges – we want that discomfort to go away RIGHT NOW. But deep down, what we want most is to be more – more loving, more forgiving, more compassionate, and more grateful.
Make gratitude a habit.
- Write down three things everyday that you are grateful for –– and see how many days you can come up three things to be grateful for – without repeating yourself!
- Get a copy of The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude by Sarah Ban Breathnach and write in it everyday for a year.
- Write your gratitudes on post-it notes and stick them around the house, in the car, in your spouse/kids’ lunch bags . . . surround yourself with reminders of what you have to be grateful for.
- Send a note to everyone that helped you in some way this year – and start with those closest to you – your spouse, your kids, your parents, and your siblings.
Whatever you focus on, grows.
Grow your happiness by lowering your expectations and growing your gratefulness.
Another great read on this idea can be found here: Toss your expectations into the ocean.