Expectations: The Pill for Unhappiness

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

ALexander pope
Expectations: The Pill for Unhappiness

We live in a world that primarily prioritizes growth and advancement. The capitalist order of our society with its promises teaches us to ‘aim high’. In chasing the normalised notion of ‘striving for more’, we fail to recognize the illusion of these materialistic promises which in reality are marketing tricks that satisfy the system and not the individual.

Believing in the integrity of the system we set high expectations which when confronted with reality are met with disappointment, anger and anxiety.

Expectations: The Pill for Unhappiness

Expectations are assumptions contrived by our brain about the way we want things to proceed in the future. Now, one might ask what is the problem with that? Should we not have any hopes or aspirations from our life and accept all that it throws at us like a passive recipient?

Hell No!

In fact, even if you try, you will not be successful in that pursuit because of the human tendency to predict things about their future. It is impossible for humans to function without expectations. Any commitment to a person or a task is sure to be followed by a flood of expectations.

Expectations in a relationship

For example, as soon as we develop a relationship we expect our partner to alter their lifestyle in a manner that  adheres to ours. But have we ever thought, what entitles us to be angry when those expectations are not fulfilled? What gives us the illusion that every person, object or  project revolves around us?

Intriguing, Huh?

Well, Modernity is accompanied by  a rapid growth in individualism which has made our lives isolated and self-centred . The discourse of our lives revolves  around ‘I’. We erroneously assume ourselves to be the centre  of the world and expect every being to fulfil  our expectations. 

Expectations: The Pill for Unhappiness - Eiffel Tower on a phone

Imagination plays a great role in influencing our expectations which in turn depend on our past and the world around us. The internet today sets a high standard of tourist destinations, dishes, clothing and lifestyle, depending on which we regulate our expectations and believe them to be ‘normal’.

We get so overwhelmed with these expectations that we forget what we are viewing is a picture loaded with editing effects and filters. These expectations when attacked with reality,results in discontentment.

Expectations: The Pill for Unhappiness - Food on a phone screen

From our childhood, we have been fed with the information of what the right scores, right professions and right lifestyles are. Deriving from this knowledge we construct our identity on the basis of this conjectured ‘normal’ and set our expectations according to it.

These expectations then, are not ours but are those which have been imposed on us by our family and society. And to subject our worth to  the accomplishment of these expectations is an absurd and futile exercise.

“A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect.”

Jonathan Lockwood Huie

In saying so, we do not suggest that expectations are bad, rather expecting good things from life is an indication of one’s self-worth. The problem is that humans don’t expect good things instead they expect ‘good outcomes’.

They do not seek happiness in the course of achieving a goal but base their entire happiness on the fulfilment  of that goal itself. For example, we do not wish for happiness and contentment in a job. Rather, we structure a subjective definition of a ‘perfect job’ and expect the world to function according to our choices. 

Expectations: The Pill for Unhappiness

Nat Ware asserts that “unhappiness arises when our expectations from life exceed our reality of life”. It is the inability to fill the gap between how it is ‘supposed to be’ and how it ‘actually is’ which leads to disappointment.

We live in an imagined world comprising the anxiety of fulfilling future expectations, and frustration for the expectations left unfulfilled. We hinge our personality to what ‘should have been’ rather than dealing with ‘what it is’. We lose the grip of reality in fancying the future and brooding over the past. 

Expectations are like unspoken rules which our brain sets for ourselves and others. Moral psychology believes that expectations are based on an ‘implicit social contract’ which means that without communicating, people contrive legitimate stories in their heads about others.

Expectations in a relationship

It becomes worse when our expectations obsess  us to an extent that we become blind to what the other person is capable of offering. For example, if we expect our partner to bring a particular bouquet, to speak in a discreet manner, to book a specific restaurant with ‘these’ lights and ‘that’ food, we are sure to be disappointed.

These unexpressed expectations are certain to be unfulfilled because what we expect is what our brain desires and defines as a perfect date but to expect our partner to have the same expectation from a date is unrealistic. Believing that an ‘unmediated expectation’ will help you achieve what you wish is a ‘magical thinking’ and is completely unreasonable.[1]

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”

Bruce lee

Every human being has their own desires and definitions, and no one is obliged to fulfil ours. Alternately, conversing about our expectations in a relationship can save time and alleviate a lot of anger and anxiety.

All these arguments do not narrow down to the fact that we quit expecting. Rather, we should work on the process of segregating our realm of expectation and happiness. We need to stop basing our happiness on the fulfilment of our expectations.

Expectations: The Pill for Unhappiness - Thumbs Up!

Practising acceptance more than expecting can work wonders for us. It not only helps us to be focused on our goals but also gives us the courage to accept the fact that we are not in control of everything that happens in our life.

Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.”


Liked this piece? Also read, Are You Choosing Unhappiness Over Uncertainty?

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