Recipe for happiness: squash the expectations

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This is apparently the mathematical breakdown of what it means to be happy.
I totally agree, don’t you?

Actually, my idea of happiness doesn’t ever include exponents, but what this equation means is totally fantastic.

There was recently an article in The Atlantic that offers this equation and says that happiness doesn’t depend on how things are going. It depends on whether things are going better or worse than you thought they would.

Happiness is all about expectations. 

This is entirely true in my experience. My life used to go like this:

  • I get manically excited about something (starting a Facebook page to share my blog)
  • it starts off the way I hoped it would (I post stuff, I have 9,000 people following the page)
  • then, that’s not enough, I change my expectations and emotionally crash because I don’t have the upgraded version of that manically exciting thing (why do I not have 90,000 people following the page?)

And when things don’t go at all as I expected? If someone doesn’t respond the way I want them to respond, or I work really hard on something and it flops – suddenly I’m curled up on the couch claiming I’m eternally destined to be a dismal failure. It’s a screwed-up roller coaster of emotional angst.

And it’s the nature of the human condition.

It seems we’ve always been that way, and that’s why 2,500 years ago, the Buddha said that life is suffering. (He used the Pali word dukkha, which could be less-dramatically translated as “unsatisfactory” or “stressful.”) We suffer because we are constantly clinging to something that is slipping away. Everything is slipping away because everything is impermanent and nothing lasts forever.

Which seems kind of dark and horrifically depressing, until you realize this is just the reality of the world and there is an answer for dealing with it:

    • The Buddha called it equanimity
    • The coach from the UVA men’s basketball team told his guys to not get “too high on themselves or too low”
    • The Gin Blossoms said “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.”

It’s all about managing expectations. Of course there are things we want. That’s good. But when we tie our self-worth and inner peace to whether or not we get them, that’s when the trouble starts.

I want to do well in life.

I want everyone to like me.

I want to have a nice glass of scotch without it giving me a massive headache.

I can’t always have all the things I want. But I want them anyway. And sometimes, I expect them. Which, if I look at that another way, can seem like I’m saying that I am entitled to have those things. And an attitude of entitlement is gross.

So, is the answer to never want anything? Or to wander around like Eeyore expecting life to generally suck? No. It’s finding that beautiful middle ground. It’s about living in a place of contentment, where what you have is enough, and your expectations are humble – so you are pleased when things are going well and only slightly ruffled when they are not. It’s riding that wave of life with gratitude, rather than fighting with the tides because you’d prefer if the ocean was a puddle.

Let’s stop thinking the world owes us something, let’s work hard but let go of the emotional attachment to the outcome, let’s be kind without looking to get something in return. Suddenly, 99% of what happens is a joyful surprise.

And that is a really happy thing.

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29 thoughts on “Recipe for happiness: squash the expectations

  1. Lisa, this was very timely for me! Thank you…such a perfect entry. We are neighbors, I live in Waynesboro! 🙂

  2. Hi Lisa, my wife and I adopted a “no expectations” policy many years ago. Now things get done better, house is clean, laundry washed etc. Saturday we will celebrate 28 years of marriage. Great reading this post today. I needed to be reminded about being happy where I am. Have a blessed day!

  3. I literally need to print this out and stick it somewhere – I’m not even joking! I admit (and have been told :-S) I’m the classic case of always looking ahead to the next thing, always wanting something better than I’ve got and therefore completely missing the here and now. Especially the last year or so, I feel like I’ve slipped into this trap of getting quite discontent with various things that I know I should be grateful to have. Definitely need to work on managing my expectations.This is literally the most helpful and valuable thing I’ve read in ages! You hit the nail on the head. Thanks so much, Lisa 🙂

    • I’m so thrilled to hear this! Meditation has worked wonders with this for me. Figuring out how to be present and grateful for this moment is such a profound way to adjust thinking and be happier. But it takes constant work!

  4. I am so glad I waited to read this. I just got some news about a new job that didnt turn out the way I wanted it to go and it has really brought me now. Now reading this I am going to try to follow your steps and hope to turn this around.
    You always seem to know what to say when I need it and I hope you keep writing.

  5. My dear, dear sweet Lisa,
    I have spent so much time in the last week reading every word you wrote.
    I love you like a daughter, which in my life, is the highest compliment possible.
    You, like my daughters, are so much smarter than me. I celebrate and cry with joy.
    I have so much to say, but sadly, this is so one sided. I know your thoughts and struggles and love you deeply, but you don’t know me at all! So I feel a bit weird. Let’s just say, I am so very very proud of you, and so impressed by your magnificent mind.
    It’s a beautiful thing when a woman of 55 can learn valuable lessons from women between 25-40 years old.
    My mantra:
    “The universe is unfolding as it should.”
    Love love and more love to you Lisa.

    • That is so very kind of you. Thank you so much. It means the world to me that my words are resonating — you never really know when you just send them out there! I absolutely love that mantra…I might borrow it. With thanks and love.

  6. This is great! I believe this and often fall victim to either setting my expectations too high or changing them. When I start a job, I often go in thinking I’ll know everything and won’t mess up and people will like me. Not always the case. If I try to make something, if it doesn’t come out perfect, it’s a complete disaster. I’ve learned to scale back and enjoy the process more than the outcome. Reminds me of the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

  7. I’m not really in the best place in my life right now.
    It was really nice reading this!
    Thanks for that Lisa 🙂

  8. Wow. It’s serendipitous that I should read this today. My husband and I had an argument last night – the root of it is essentially that this is my problem. My expectations in our relationship and in my life aren’t necessarily unrealistic.. but they are MY expectations and no one else’s. My life is not bad because they are not met, but I do get emotionally attached to thinking of the way something should be and I need to let go.

  9. Yes, I know you get the glow when you anticipate a project, and start on it. But at some point the spirit leaves and you are either sans emotion or even blue about it. I have encountered this and for lack of a better tact, just soldiered on when I was happy, or flat, or sad. Feelings wax and wane and if you depend on them it’s hard to succeed. Happiness is absolutely like a cycle. You go from peak of the wave to the trough. Just hold one for the next peak. Your blog is interesting and thank you for the food for thought.

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