A good friend of mine once told me that the key to happiness was to have NO expectations. It sounded good and also somewhat impossible at the same time. I have pondered that thought over the years, and I have fallen into the trap of having expectations that lead to disappointments. For example, my sailor was deployed and he would try to write to me once per day around 2 PM my time. I found that relying on that one email per day enabled us to stay connected, and lifted my mood daily. The key is that I was relying on it and expecting it. The daunting challenge of being left for 6 months out of the year without your significant other can be overwhelming and lonely at times. I looked forward to that correspondence each day, because sometimes I had told him something important the day before and was waiting for an answer or encouragement. I loved hearing about his daily life, and thoughts about our future. On occasion, that one email I was relying on did not show up in my inbox. I was left with an empty feeling, no ability to connect to him, no reason for why he had not written, and no time frame of when I would hear from him again. It was on those days that my heart and brain would sink and then start a war. One the one hand, I would logically try to tell myself that he was busy, or maybe they changed his shift and sleep time, or maybe the whole ship’s communications were down for the day or week. My heart would pout regardless of the logic. I was disappointed and upset. I was off balance on those days.
Why was that exactly? I had come to expect the daily email, and going without it was far more painful than it needed to be. What happened was completely normal, so I didn’t beat myself up. But I did want to protect my mind and heart in the future. The adjustment needed is so slight and yet so profound. You will need to take a look at your own life and see where you have come to expect certain things and what that means. Maybe you expect that your mail arrives daily, that the grocery store will be open for at least 22 hours per day, that your car will start, that people will follow the traffic laws. Do we expect our children to behave a certain way? Do we expect a card or some recognition on our birthday or anniversary? Do we expect to be treated a certain way at each type of store or restaurant? Maybe you expect to go on vacation for two weeks each year. Maybe you expect help and assistance with household chores from your children and spouse.
Even though some of these items we pay for and feel entitled to, other things we don’t pay for and still feel entitled to them. This isn’t about whether you deserve something. You may very well be entitled to, have earned, or deserve some of what you are expecting. This is only about your happiness and how to improve your happiness quotient by managing your expectations.
The problem with expectations is that you feel entitled already. It is as if you own this. It belongs to you. It is hard to be pleased or truly happy when you receive something you expect. It is hard to feel especially happy when you are just receiving what you already deserve and have earned. You are satisfied when you receive something you expect. So when you receive a possession or a desire is met, you are satiated temporarily. When you receive what you expect, you will not be upset, but it is not the same as happiness.
Happiness can occur even if your needs are not met, even if you are poor, even if your desires are not met. In addition, if you do not expect something and you are granted a gift of any kind, you become even happier. When I return to my housing complex, I expect and resolve that I might not get to park anywhere near my house. When we are able to park near the house, my kids and I are cheering about our Rock Star parking spot! When you expect less, you have more to get excited about. Let’s face it: we are being granted all kinds of gifts throughout each day.
Take a step back and consider this. What if you made a goal to eliminate or at least lower expectations? Instead, choose to replace expectation with hope, desire, and anticipation of possibilities. What if you went into your birthday honestly not expecting phone calls, cards, Facebook messages, flowers, or gifts? Your chances of receiving something are still relatively high, but when you actually receive, you will be even more excited and happy. Your gratitude that you were remembered will exceed past years. Let’s say you worked hard, and you think you are the one deserving of a bonus or promotion at work. You know that you are smarter and worked harder than your colleagues. If you expect it, you might have already spent that money in advance. Then when you get the bonus, you are just paying the bills you already accrued. It would increase your happiness if you could let go of those thoughts that you own this. This does NOT belong to you. Let it go. Let it come to you freely and without expectation.
You are free to hope, and free to desire, and free to dream. You are even free to anticipate, however the is on the slippery slope of expecting. Be careful!
If you want to improve and grow, then you will need to have some expectations. If you want to grow your business, if you want to get into Stanford, or if you want to make the Olympics, you will need to set high standards and then you will need to reach for them. You will need to set those expectations. And you will need to prepare for disappointment when you do not achieve them. I am NOT saying that expectations and disappointments aren’t a good and necessary part of life. We need expectations for growth purposes. We just have to understand where we should set our expectations and where we should let them go. We should start to get comfortable with any outcome.
If you can learn to balance all the expectations, desires, hopes, and anticipation, with a healthy attitude that is at peace with any outcome, you will also find your happiness. I am not going to say this is an easy feat. If anything, this takes grace. Grace comes with prayer. Gratitude comes with practice and humility.
My prayer for all of us today: May God bless us with the proper attitude, acceptance and gratitude. “Thy Will Be Done” is the perfect place to start.
Copyright 2017 Marya Jauregui
Photos are used with the kind permission of Dino Carbetta and are available for purchase at http://dinocarbetta.photoshelter.com/gallery-collection/Italy/C0000lFL3aBABj2Q