Expectations – the real happiness killer

“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportions to my expectations.” ~ Anonymous

Expectations are the strong belief that something will happen or be the case. More than anything else, our expectations determine our reality. And our expectations also impact those around us. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, people may rise or fall depending on our expectations and beliefs. Research shows that this happens because when we believe in someone;

  • We treat them better than people we think will fail,
  • We give them more opportunities to succeed than we give those we think will fail,
  • We give them more accurate, helpful feedback than we give others, and
  • We do more teaching because we believe it’s time well spent.

This is known as the “Nocebo Effect” – letting your doubts cloud your belief in someone (or something) practically ensures their failure. Your expectations shape and bend your reality. They can change your life, emotionally and physically. What is expected shapes what happens. Research has shown highly-trained weight lifters can out-do their personal bests when they believe they’ve taken a performance booster. People who wear taller, better looking avatars in virtual reality behave in ways that taller and better looking people tend to act. Our minds are constantly jumping to conclusions about the world we live in and who we are.


The following expectations can be Happiness Killers:

Life should be fair
It is not. Not at all. Bad things happen to good people all the time for no reason. Expecting you will never have to deal with hardship or difficulties and that you won’t cope when they come is denying the human experience.

Everyone should like me
They won’t and don’t. Just as you don’t like everyone you know. Instead focus on earning the trust and respect of people you like.

People should agree with me
Yours may not be the only right answer and being right is not always right. We tend to take others words and behaviour personally when often, it is about them not us. We expect them to think and act just like us and if they don’t, we feel hurt or angry.

People understand what I am saying
Assumptions, like expectations, can be Happiness Killers. People won’t understand us just because we are talking. Genuinely listening to someone else with empathy creates understanding whilst projecting our own mental filters and world views onto others generates misunderstanding and hurt feelings.

I must always do well
“If I do not attain these goals, if I fail to live up to my expectations, I am a miserable failure and deserve the worst.” This kind of thinking is the basis of self-denigration, self-hatred and compromised self-esteem. You are already enough and are intrinsically worthy irrespective of achievement.

Things will make me happy
We are poor at predicting what will make us happy in the future. What makes you the happiest? This question from Buddha is difficult to answer. Winning Lotto? Getting married? Buying a new car? This hedonic treadmill does not cause happiness as we adapt to our circumstances which become the new normal.

I can change them
There is one person in this world you can truly change. Yourself and that takes a tremendous amount of effort. The only way that people change is through the desire and wherewithal to change themselves. We can’t and shouldn’t “fix” others.

The antidote to expectations may be cultivating gratitude. Goodness is mottled and imperfect. If you think that human nature is good and powerful, then you will go around frustrated because the perfect society has not yet been achieved. But if you go through life believing that our reason is not that great, our individual skills are not that impressive, and our goodness is mottled, then you might be amazed how life has managed to be as sweet as it is. Learning to accept what is rather than what should be is powerful.

That’s the paradox, which can be sometimes hard to grasp. Only by accepting A are we able to move to B, and only by practicing this day by day can we start to experience and understand the freedom in letting go of unrealistic expectations and embracing gratitude and the present. It doesn’t suddenly make the gap between what you have and what you want disappear, but it does allow you to regain your happiness. It also creates space in your head. Space that’s no longer absorbed by negative emotions and hostile thoughts. Renowned clinical psychologist, Dr. Ellis strongly encouraged people to stop “musturbating,” and “shoulding” on themselves and others (i.e., to change “musts” and “shoulds” into preferences and desires rather than hold onto them as imperatives). When you learn to let go of your unrealistic expectations, an open road unfolds right in front of you. One full of new possibilities, ready and waiting for you to create your own path.

Think well, act well, feel well, be well!