I had read an interesting perspective on happiness some years ago. It said that happiness can be measured using a formula. Reality minus Expectations determines the extent of happiness or unhappiness one experiences.
So logically it meant that lower the expectation, higher the probability of experiencing happiness. However in practice, it’s very difficult to curb your expectations. Isn’t it? The fact is, we have expectations every other moment.
From the time we wake up in the morning our expectations starts to build up. We expect to get up on time, expect the paper to be delivered on time, expect TV to be working alright, the maid to reach home and finish all work in time. We then expect to reach office with minimum traffic hassles. And so on. So many expectations. It’s impossible to not have one. All those talks of living a life with no expectations in unreal.
Of course these are small instances; it extends to bigger things in life. Our expectation on the education we want; the profile of our life partner, the job we dream of or the designation and salary we expect, how people behave. Overall the life we live. We always expect more. A lot more. And More expectations, more unhappiness. Sounds Scary.
So does that mean that since we have expectations all the time, we would always end up being unhappy? As there will always be case when things don’t happen as expected. And when expectations are not met it leads to frustration and unhappiness.
So is there a way to manage expectations in a practical way, thereby cause us less unhappiness.
This is something i learnt many years ago, it’s some sort of a treasure to me and am so happy to be finally able to share this through a post. It’s not a fool proof plan but something which works well for me.
It’s a given that expectations would always be there and we can’t reduce the same; however we can manage it to some extent by being aware of our expectations and more importantly its source as therein lies the key to managing it and ensuring you don’t get too disappointed/unhappy at the end.
If we can identify the source of our expectations correctly and act accordingly we can avoid a lot of pain in our life
The two sources of expectations. When you answer the ‘WHY’ of Expectation.
In the first type, source of expectation, comes from within. Here, we expect something, as we have an inner desire to achieve it. It has nothing to do with anyone else.
Two weeks ago, I had set a target to wake up 30 minutes earlier from my scheduled wake up time. This was something I wanted to do since a long time. It came from within, I challenged myself. Nobody told me about this. Similarly, the expectation of doing a office project on time and well, is inherently not from the desire to get brownie points from bosses but to simply deliver a great project report because you feel like doing a good job every time.
The second kind of expectation is the more of the dangerous kind. This is what I believe the root cause of lot of misery in our lives. And it’s all around us. And worse it’s addictive and viral!
In this, the source of expectation is external. When you ask ‘WHY’ question here, there is always an external reference. This sort of expectation is dependent on outside influences/factors. Also many times it also involves comparison with outside factors. So this sort of expectations leads to tremendous insecurity, pain, unhappiness and personality disorders. The trick is to be aware about such expectations and dealing with it accordingly
So two week ago, my sister was narrating this case of his friend in office who was so insecure and unhappy because his wife earns more than him. This guy earns an otherwise a very good salary in absolute sense however his expectations suddenly changed as he started comparing himself with his wife’s salary, leading to unhappiness. Notice the external factor in the expectation.
Even today, I find friends/relatives comparing looks, lifestyle, salaries and designations with peer groups / friends/ family members and develop unrealistic expectations. The danger in this kind of expectations is the comparison never stops. Lets talk money. If you start making more money then you start comparing with an even wealthier person and start feeling small. And again you become unhappy. Isn’t that what happened to Rajat Gupta whose illustrious career crashed and now finds himself in Jail on charges of insider trading.
Not that expectation about better salaries, looks, better designation and such other things are bad, In fact it’s a great motivator, only the source has to be within you and not influenced by external factors. Here you expect to have better designation because you are good and you deserve more and not because you want to show off or because you want to earn more than your friend.
Lets look at classic case in our offices.
Many times we do projects and hope to be appreciated from bosses, colleagues. We work hard and deserve to be appreciated. But that doesn’t happen. We become unhappy and frustrated. Notice here the expectation is based on external factors , it was dependent on your bosses and peer groups’ approval. And the end is frustration. In such case, the only expectation one should have is doing the his best for the project. When you feel you did the best, you feel happy regardless of whether others saw your project or reacted as you expected. You try your best to get their approval if not its fine. There is no unhappiness. Of course all the feedback should be received in a positive way.
Expectations play an even important role in relationships.
In relationships, one partner may feel she has given a lot in the relationship and expects the other to do the same. And this cause unhappiness. While she may be right, but the moment she starts expecting from external factor, her husband in this case, it surely leads pain and unhappiness. Rather she can focus on doing her part and leave it at that. If it doesn’t work out, it simply was not meant to be.
Managing expectations, by being aware of the source of expectation and acting accordingly helps you to avoid unnecessary pain. This approach helps one to be focused on inner self and avoid falling trap of depending on external factors which you can’t control. Yes you cant stop expecting but the point is you anyways cannot control external factors to act as per your expectation and the sooner you realize the more you approach the situation in sensible way.
I have to thank my parents for instilling this great value in me about not falling in the trap of expectations. They did not expect too much from us. They ensured we get good education, we study well and prayed that we do our best. They let us be who we are and find our own path. Right since childhood we were never compared with others or expected to do better to purely show off. In fact, when we did well, we were told to be as polite about it as possible. Not even mention to our relatives. Their approach was if it happens its good, if it doesn’t, it’s still good.
And all through my life I have tried to carry forward this learning. I prefer to set my own challenges which motivate myself to excel in whatever I do. That has helped me to grow as an individual and has instilled tremendous confidence.
I am sure with this awareness we can all focus on our inner challenges and desires and not waste time on being dependent on external factors and comparing ourselves with others over petty things which have no real end. Our inner focus is what will help us to excel and he truly happy.
Just to sum up
- Happiness = Reality – Expectations
- If source of expectation is from within it leads us to path of excellence and happiness
- If the source of expectation is external , we should kill this expectation as it leads to pain and unhappiness
- You cant stop expectations but if the source of expectation is external you become aware that you have no control over it and let it not affect you negatively.