This is a myth put forth by cynical people, not by the happiness gurus. The reasoning behind the claim is that people who have high expectations end up disappointed, while those with low expectations are easily satisfied.
So, if your train is late, or your car isn’t fixed on time, then 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 one. 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 be satisfied 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.’
‘Are you suggesting that we have high expectations instead?’
No, although there are benefits to having high expectations. They allow us to have a rosy, positive view of the world, which prompts optimism and effort. With that optimism we are less likely to be daunted by the fear of failure, and be 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. We might as well make our expectations high. But consider: 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 from past experience that no friend is perfect, and we can instead aim to deal with their shortcomings. Instead of expecting a well paid, stimulating career, we can remind ourselves that it’s a jungle out there and there are pitfalls with all careers. Instead of expecting that perfect job, we can instead aim for that perfect job. Instead of expecting to be in a committed relationship, we can aim to be in one.
By aiming for these things instead of expecting them, we don’t take life for granted and we make plans to get those things.
So, I’m suggesting that you avoid having low expectations AND high expectations. Instead, have no expectations. One good way to do that is to consciously aim to not have expectations. The chapter about the Tyranny of the Shoulds can help there too.
Q. ‘The happiness gurus warn us against having high expectations because we can feel gutted when those high expectations aren’t met. Even if we aim for those things, we can still feel gutted.’
When we aim for those things but fail to attain them, we are more likely to feel disappointed than gutted. But just how disabling is that disappointment? Do we live our lives wringing our hands in anguish because our intentions are unfulfilled? For most of us the answer is no. We shrug and get on with life.