At the point where I am in my life, I have become convinced that the fundamental source of unhappiness in our lives stems from expectations. In the history of human thought, this is probably not hugely revelatory, but I don’t think it’s generally known.
We build up expectations in our lives: of how people should act or react, what they should say, do, think, etc. These expectations, however, are based on our story, our perspectives, our world view, etc., and not on any objective truth. Therefore, when these expectations are not met, we experience disappointment, frustration, anger, sadness; all of these lead to unhappiness.
I keep wondering why – why do we think we have the privilege of having expectations about other people? Is it perhaps others have expectations of us and we’ve seen the disappointment in them when we don’t meet these? This would be especially powerful in relation to our parents’ expectations and possible disappointments – even if they claim not to be disappointed. This carries into adulthood and relationships, where couples drift apart when expectations are not, once again, met (“He/she should know what I want!”).
Note that I’m excluding the raising kids type of expectations, here: “don’t jump on the bed”, “don’t interrupt adults when they’re talking”, “don’t pour your cereal on your sister’s head”, etc. I’m talking about the “I wish so & so would call me more often”, or “I bet my mother / father / brother / sister / whoever will be proud of me for this or that achievement”, or “I hope my boss will give me a raise/promotion this year” type of expectations.
And then they don’t, so we slump our shoulders and make up all sorts of stories in our head.
We need to stop perpetuating these elaborate schemes of self-deception that we inflict upon ourselves. I’ve been wondering how, and I’ve come up with two possibilities. First, we can lower our expectations of others; this may not be a complete solution, but it might help. Perhaps if we were more realistic about our expectations of others, if we tried to understand their points of views, thoughts, feelings, stories, etc.; perhaps if we vocalized and discussed some of these expectations with our loved ones? Oh, there’s a novel idea! My wife and I have adopted a “flat-carpet relationship” (with a nod of the head to my buddy Mark for introducing me to this phrase): this simply means that we don’t “sweep anything under the rug”; we discuss our expectations – lay the cards on the table, as it were. It’s an extremely powerful way of living and requires much transparency and maturity on the part of both partners. We can only wish that at some point we can pass this on to our young daughters, as we both feel it would make their lives and relationships much meaningful.
Second – and maybe this will be easier if it comes after going through the first solution – would be to stop having expectations of others and focus instead on expectations we should have of ourselves. That would be grand, wouldn’t it? How can I be a better husband/friend/co-worker/father/etc.? What do I want to achieve for myself in my life? What do I need to do to get that? What is the one thing I could do every day/week to help me be a better person (assuming you’ve defined for yourself what you as a “better person” looks like)?
In 2019, that is what I want to focus on: clarifying my expectations for myself – the goals I want to achieve, what I would like my life to look like, how I want to contribute to the world. I will pause, reflect, think, and make these known to those close to me. If some of these expectations involve others, then I will be transparent with them and discuss how they can help me.
For my family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, I expect you to have health, love, and happiness in 2019.
Please set your expectations accordingly.