Ah, the expectation. The leading cause of disappointment. The “root of all heartache.” The segway into unhappiness. And the sooner we recognize the reason for our disappointment, the sooner we can stop forming expectations.
And the sooner we realize how absurdly difficult that is.
That is something I’ve been trying to work on for a while now. It took me the longest time to realize why I was consistently disappointed experience after experience. In fact, it wasn’t until I came across the quote by William Shakespeare:
“Expectation is the root of all heartache”
And that’s when I took a good look at my life and evaluated why I was unhappy whenever I was. After that terrible first date, after a night of planning a great night, looking forward to going on a trip, a job interview, and so much more. If I had just expected absolutely nothing, I would have come out on the other end significantly happier.
When I think about the greatest experience in college that I will forever look back on, it was when a friend spontaneously called me up at 11pm and said “be ready in 15 minutes, we’re going out.” It gave me no time to form an expectation of what we were going to do, how it would play out, nothing. I just put on a cute dress and went out and had the time of my life. We didn’t get back home until 5am, and that was the greatest part.
Unfortunately, so many times after that I would think it would be like this and whenever it wasn’t I was dissappointed. But I suppose that’s not expectation more than it is a standard, which is a topic for another time.
So here’s my challenge (for myself and you as well if you want):
Part I: go into life experiences without expectations. Clear your mind of what it could/should be like. Next time you do something good for someone, don’t expect them to respond a certain way or even say thank you (I think we can all think of a time we did something nice, didn’t receive gratitude, and was upset as a result. Counterintuitive to doing something nice, isn’t it?). Next time you go on vacation, don’t expect to have fun, just have it when you’re there! (How often have vacation plans gotten ruined because of weather or time, or things are just not as fun as you thought they would be.)
Part II: STAY IN THE PRESENT. I know I’ve talked about this before in Staring Contests with my Cat, but it’s something I’m still working on and I find an application in nearly every part of my life, including this. I am always thinking about the past or the future. I said it once and I’ll say it again because I strive to remember this everyday:
When most of life’s precious time is spent looking back or forward, when do we ever stop to look around?
We need to stop forming expectations of the future or reminiscing about dissappointments and just live in the present. If all we do is form expectations or evaluate dissappointments, we are losing our precious moments of the present moment by moment. Worst of all, when we form expectations, we let them hinder our perception of the present; it may not be as good as we expected it to be, but it’s still pretty darn good!
For example, THIS is why Valentines Day sucks. All women everywhere excpect their boyfriend/husband/fiancé/everything in between to have some romantic evening planned out but it almost never meets our expectations (that have spent days maybe weeks developing). If we went into Valentine’s Day without any expectations at all and just lived in the moment, we would see that the men in our life actually love us and are very romantic. It’s not their fault women are more hopeless romantic than men (in most cases). To quote my favorite author Sophie Kinsella:
Sometimes I think in Hollywood technicolor and I have to remember that other people can’t hear the swooping violins
Here’s my progress so far, I recently went on a spontaneous trip to NYC with a couple friends. Yes, it was spontaneous, but on the 6 hour car ride up, I told myself I wouldn’t make any expectations about the trip (i.e. I slept the whole car ride :-D). There were things we wanted to do, like go to the Top of the Standard and eat soup dumplings, but I told myself I wouldn’t form expectations about either, or the rest of the trip for that matter.
So what happened? Well, we got to NYC and had to wait in the lobby for an hour and half until we finally got into our room at 4:30am. It was cold and rained the entire time we were there. The zipper on my one and only fancy dress ripped. I lost one of my favorite summer dresses.
And it was the best trip ever.
Don’t get me wrong, I still had a great time! But I didn’t form any expectations that it would be this perfect, awesome, trip or make any mental images of me in a fabulous dress outside in the amazing NYC sun so when it ended up raining, gloomy and cold every day, I wasn’t disappointed.
I’m not trying to say it’s easy, in fact it’s near impossible to not form any expectations because we’re always thinking about the future. But I think the minute we can stop forming expectations and just live life moment to moment by staying in the present is when we can start finding true happiness in life.