“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” ~Alexander Pope
I was sitting on the couch in my bedroom, at sunset, looking at the trees outside my window. I felt a profound sadness, frustration, disappointment, and desperation taking me over.
While I was staring into oblivion, all my expectations came flashing to my mind.
“No, this is not what my life was supposed to be. I was supposed to be successful. I was supposed to have my own house. I was supposed to be happy. What happened?”
What happened was that I am part of the majority, not the exception.
My entire life I expected to be the exception. I assumed that if I worked hard enough, I would succeed; if I did well in university, I would succeed; if I poured my heart and soul into something, I would succeed; my dreams could come true.
I had become a slave to my expectations, and they were ruining my life.
In my mind, things were supposed to be different. My great expectations were robbing me of happiness, because I wasn’t where I wanted to be, I didn’t have what I expected to have, and I wasn’t who I expected I should be.
The truth of the matter is that there are few people out there who are lucky enough to be living their dreams.
Most of us survive on crumbs of our expectations. We have a job, even if it’s a job we don’t like. We work from nine to five every day to pay the bills. If you’re lucky, you get to go on a vacation once a year, and for the very lucky, two of them.
Statistics show depression and anxiety are on the rise. I am part of those statistics, along with 350 million other people who suffer from the same hell I do.
How could depression and anxiety not be on the rise when we are constantly bombarded by repetitive messages that tell us about all the great things we can accomplish?
Of course giving people high expectations is what sells. If beauty creams advertised their products by saying, “It will moisturize your skin and that’s pretty much it,” not too many people would buy the product.
Marketing survives by raising people’s expectations. When the product doesn’t meet up with their expectation, disappointment follows. And so it goes with most things in our lives.
Don’t get me wrong; I truly believe that dreams can come true. The point is that we shouldn’t expect it to happen. If it does happen, it will be a nice surprise. But if it doesn’t and we’re expecting it, we are likely doomed for disappointment and frustration.
Of course it would be amazing if we could all live our great expectations, but we shouldn’t base our happiness and personal satisfaction on them, because there is no rule that says that we will all live to fulfill them. I know this might sound pessimistic, simply because it goes against everything we’ve heard.
We read great stories of people who defied the odds and became a success, but we never read about the people who did their best and failed. Their stories never become motivational quotes and bestselling books, because they didn’t make it.
We never hear their stories about how they put their heart and soul into something and failed, because that doesn’t sell books; that doesn’t sell conferences.
Many motivational books and personal coaches survive by raising people’s expectations instead of focusing on finding happiness with what they already have.
Of course meeting our expectations could bring happiness, but if we’re waiting to be happy for that to happen, we might be waiting a long time.
Maybe you’re not Anna Wintour or Mark Zuckerberg, and you don’t have a million dollars in the bank.
Maybe you’re feeling frustrated because parenthood didn’t turn out to be what you had expected (it’s tiring and demanding).
Maybe your job is not fulfilling, and at one point you expected you’d grow up to be somewhere completely different from where you are today.
I could sit here and write that you can change everything and you should fight to meet your expectation. I think you should, but you shouldn’t base you personal satisfaction and happiness on that.
I’m here to tell you that it’s all right if you didn’t meet your expectations.
Sometimes life throws curve balls at us, and for some reason or another life doesn’t go to plan. It doesn’t mean we have to stop working toward our goals; it just means that we can be happy regardless.
Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we need to focus on what we do have.
Capitalism shoves down our throats to strive for more, and we obediently follow, only to meet a brick wall and realize how frustrated we are for not being everything the system promised we could be.
Millennials in particular are battling this problem harshly.
We were sold the idea that if we went to college, got great marks, and did tons of unpaid internships we’d be destined for the stars. Instead, millions of millennials have a huge amount of debt from student loans and are finding it hard to find a job. I’m not even talking about their dream job—just a job.
Did you know that millennials have the highest statistics on depression and anxiety ever recorded in history? That’s mainly because we expected to at least have the quality of life our parents had. But things have changed, and now we are not even close to what they had at our age.
Our expectations were too high, and we live in a world where it’s harder to meet those expectations.
It would have been a lot better to break things down to millennials in a realistic way, and if some of them got to meet their expectations, then good for them. But for the rest, we’d know that not all expectations need to be met for us to be happy.
I know you might be reading this and thinking of all the expectations that you had that you didn’t get to live up to. Maybe you’re feeling frustrated and sad.
The best and easiest way to be happy is to work toward our goals but never expect for them to become a reality. It’s a paradox. It’s the duality of existence.
We need a goal and a dream to keep us motivated, but at the same time we need to not expect anything from life. That way, regardless of the outcome, we don’t become disappointed.
I know it kind of goes against the motivational quotes we read, and it especially goes against the greedy perception that has been incrusted in our minds. We are taught to never be content with what we have and to always strive for more. But this greedy mindset is what has many feeling frustrated with their lives.
I’m not saying that it’s good to get comfortable in mediocrity, but to push ourselves to be the best person we can be without expecting a great outcome. To do things because we love doing them, not because we’re expecting something.
It’s like doing a good deed expecting a “thank you.” If the “thank you” doesn’t come, you become disappointed. If you do it regardless of the gratitude, you still feel content.
It’s about being happy while working to be better, not by placing happiness on a goal. You find that happiness in your progress, in your daily life, in feeling grateful for the small things—for having food on your plate, a roof over your head, health, and loved ones to share your life with.
It is about coming to terms with the idea that your dreams might not come true. Making peace with life—that even if it doesn’t allow you to fulfill your dreams, it has given you life, and life itself is a treasure.
As the saying goes, happy people are not those who have the best of everything but the ones who make the best of everything they have.
About Caroline D. James
Caroline D. James is the founder and writer of wanderside.com, where she explores a different perspective to ordinary life.