This is a myth put forth by cynics. If your train is late, or your car isn’t fixed on time, just shrug indifferently, because you didn’t expect much anyway. Expect mediocrity, says the theory, and you can be pleasantly surprised.
The thing is, there isn’t a pleasant surprise when things go well, just a mild jolt to one’s cynicism. Besides, pleasant surprises only provide temporary happiness, not the core kind.
Low expectations will affect your day-to-day life. By expecting mediocrity you will find it. Everywhere.
Don’t aim to have a satisfactory life by having low expectations. That’s not satisfaction, that’s weary resignation. Sure, you might avoid being disappointed, but life itself would be a disappointment.
Having low expectations will not bring happiness; at best it will help you avoid some unhappiness. That’s not good enough.
How would you feel if no-one at expected much of you? A little hurt maybe? A little worthless? So, why view life that way?
‘Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.’
‘People don’t fail because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.’
Q. ‘Do you suggest we have high expectations instead?’
No. Certainly, there are benefits to having high expectations. High expectations can prompt optimism and effort. With that optimism we are less likely to be daunted by the fear of failure, and more motivated to work for what we want.
And, if we expect to be married, that indicates a confidence in our desirability. If we expect to have perfect kids, we might be prompted to nurture them well. If we expect to have an attractive home, we have something to look forward to and it’s easier to work hard for it.
We only get one life, and it’s the journey which matters, so whether or not we actually meet our expectations doesn’t matter.
‘When I asked you if we should have high expectations you said no. Yet you’re giving sound arguments for why we should have them!’
Instead of expecting to succeed, we can aim to succeed. Instead of expecting to retain our youthful looks, we can aim to retain them, or aim to accept the looks we have. Instead of expecting our kids to be perfect, we can aim to raise perfect kids. Instead of expecting our friends to be perfect, we can remind ourselves that no friend is perfect, and aim to deal with their shortcomings. Instead of expecting to be in a committed relationship, we can aim to be in one. That can prompt us to do what it takes to keep the relationship healthy.
By aiming for these things instead of expecting them, we don’t simply assume they are going to happen. Instead, we are prompted to make plans to make those things happen.
‘Even if we aim for those things we can still feel gutted when they don’t happen.’
Just how disabling is that disappointment? Do we live our lives in anguish because our intentions are unfulfilled? Hardly. For most of us the answer is ‘no, we’re not dramatically affected’. We shrug and get on with life.
Besides, when we aim for those things but fail to attain them, we are more likely to feel disappointed than gutted.
‘So, no low expectations, no high expectations?’
That’s right. Have no expectations. But aim as high as you like.
‘How do we have no expectations?’
Read the chapter on Karen Horney’s Tyranny of the Should.
If you apply the tips in this book you will gain resilience and not bother having expectations. You will be content to discover life as it goes along.
‘I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations; nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine.’
Here are some other happiness myths:
– The power of positive thinking. We are often told that we need to look on the bright side if we want to be happy. We need to see the glass half full. But is that helpful advice?
– Myth: we need money to be happy. Surely we need money to be happy, don’t we? Without it we would be in dire straits. So, why is it a myth?
– Myth: to be happy we need to be kind. Countless times we are told that becoming a kind person will make us happier. Why isn’t that true?
– Myth: We are happier with only a few possessions. Will having fewer possessions make us feel happier? How does that work?
– Myth: We need to suffer before we can be happy. Helen Keller once said: ‘The hilltops would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.’ Is she right?
– Myth: We need to reach our full potential. The life coaches offer to help us become better people, yet in another breath tell us to accept ourselves for who we are. What’s going on?
– Myth: We need to love ourselves to be happy. We keep hearing that, but is it true? No, it’s not.
– Myth: We need to be loved to be happy This isn’t true either! At least, not after our teens.
– Myth: We need close relationships to be happy. It’s the biggest, most common myth about happiness of them all. Nearly everyone says it. Yet, it’s not true.
– Myth: We need good health to be happy. That seems obvious, doesn’t it? After all, we won’t be happy suffering the black plague. But does good health bring core happiness?
– Myth: We can choose to be happy. This is one of the most pernicious myths going around. Of course we can’t choose to be happy!
– Myth: We need to fake it until we make it. Supposedly, if we act happy, we will become happy. But it’s just not true.
– Myth: We need to foster compassion to be happy. The Buddhists are particularly keen on the idea of fostering compassion. So, should we foster it?
– Myth: We can earn our self-worth. How many of us live our lives trying to earn our self-worth? Might you be trying to earn your self worth?
– Myth: We should aim to succeed. Life-coaches want to tell us how to succeed, but we shouldn’t even try.