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  • Mark Easley

The Key to Happiness: Lower your Expectations

A new study from the University College of London indicates that the secret to a happy life is to embrace the concept of low expectations. Author and neuroscientist Robb Rutledge: Happiness depends not on how well things are going but whether things are going better or worse than expected. It is an interesting paradoxical concept. It also rings true. Are optimists so cheerful because they have high expectations or because they have low expectations? It is an interesting question.

We all have expectation in our lives: what we want out of life and who we want to become. One of the keys to happiness lies within the management of your expectations of people and circumstances. If you don’t have expectations, you can’t be disappointed. Often, we tend to believe that the way we treat others will be the way we are treated in return. But, unfortunately, this does not always happen.

Unrealistic expectations can, will, and most often do, lead to disappointment. Too many people are obsessed with finding the perfect career or the perfect spouse and, as a result, become increasingly frustrated when this does not pan out.

An unfortunate pitfall of having high expectations in certain circumstances is that we prevent ourselves from enjoying the experience altogether. If you feel this way in your life, you need to readjust your expectations. Do no expect things out of situations, just go into them with an open mind. This will allow you to fully immerse yourself without the pressure of living up to preconceived notions.

When you have unrealistic notions for people, you place yourself at a high risk of getting disappointed and hurt. Maybe someone let you down in certain aspects, but isn’t it inherently unfair to have these people on such a pedestal? By maintaining an accurate awareness of your own realities, you become able to determine what is truly expected from others.

It’s all about managing the “aspirational gap,” the gap between what is and what could be, what you have and what you expect. It’s all about expectation management. Such disappointment can lead to several outcomes, including trying to get this person to change and an increased anger toward the person who is causing the disappointment. This becomes problematic since the fault lies with you for putting such pressure on this person.

HOWEVER . . . there are limits to the employment of the low expectation theory.

First, If you have high expectations, you can often end up disappointed but if you don’t have these expectations, you may not try as hard as you could in order to accomplish a goal. These tendencies can turn people into perfectionists, which is far from a perfect life.

There are simply times in life when we must choose to hold extremely high expectations in the hope of reaching a potentially unreachable goal. That is life sometimes, and that tis typically where we experience the most personal growth.

The answer: Expect what you can, reach and be aware of the fact that sometimes life throws you a curveball. Try to remain confident while maintaining positive aspirations. Just remember not to make these aspirations so high that they are impractical or unreachable. A good rule of thumb: Have high expectations if you want improvement, and lower expectations if you want contentment.

Second, while it might be important to hold lowered expectations for circumstances and people that are outside of our control, it should not be acceptable to hold lower expectations for yourself or for things within your control. We should always hold ourselves to the highest standards.

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