If You Want to Be Happy, Tame Your Expectations

I wanted to finish 2012 with what I think is my biggest “insight.” That is, the thing that I felt taught me the most about myself and other people. As you know, if you follow me on Twitter  Facebook, or read what I write about here (follow button on the right-hand side!), I like to learn. I think that learning doesn’t end once you leave school (whether we like it or not) and I think that learning about ourselves never ends.

I’ve certainly came across quite a few techniques, perspectives, and ways for being in the world and handling stress. In particular, I think that Byron Katie‘s The Work can be quite powerful. While I’ve never attended one of her seminars, watching the videos of people “doing The Work” can have its own cathartic experience.

I’ve noticed that one of the revelations I’ve come to this year is very similar to what Katie has said, but I still feel it to be slightly different. It’s the idea that our expectations about the world are what cause us stress, unhappiness, and you name it. I’m speaking very abstractly, so let me give you a concrete example.

Let’s say I’m having a problem with a coworker. Let’s say that coworker does something that I don’t like. Why does this upset me? Without getting into any psychological underpinnings and staying right at the surface, it’s simply about my expectations of what that coworker should (or shouldn’t) be doing that’s causing me trouble. How? Well, assuming you believe that each human being is entitled to their own autonomy, they have free will to do as they please (within the law, I suppose). If the person is acting in a way that displeases me, it’s probably because I expect them to be acting in some other way — and they aren’t. Again, still kind of abstract, so let’s make it really concrete.

Let’s say that this coworker (by the way, this example works for family, friends, spouses, pets, pretty much anything), has a particular way of answering a question with a question. And let’s say that I find this really annoying (in fact, I’d find it intriguing, but let’s go with annoying, for now). Every time I see this coworker, I’m going to remember that this coworker asks me questions whenever I ask them questions — so it’s going to make me unhappy, just seeing this person! If I happen to need to ask them something and they ask me a question back, I might begin to feel angry. Why am I feeling angry? Simply because my expectations are that this coworker should not ask me questions when I ask them questions. Should this really matter? No! This coworker can ask me questions when I ask them questions — they’re certainly allowed to do that.

Let’s try another example for which I’m sure we can all relate: traffic. Have you ever been sitting in traffic, late for something? I know I have. While sitting in this traffic, do you ever notice that sometimes people will try to “jump the line?” Does that bother you? If I’m being honest, this has certainly bothered me at times. Why should this bother me (or you)? Well, we expect that people will be kind and wait their turn right. We expect… Oh boy — there it is again! Expectations! If I didn’t have expectations that people wouldn’t try to jump the line, this wouldn’t make me upset. I might think, ‘Oh, maybe they’re in a really big hurry. Maybe someone they know is in trouble and they’re trying to go save them.’ It’s really impossible to know why someone would try to jump the line in traffic, so far be it from me to expect something from them in the way that they behave to the other drivers.

So, if I had to choose one thing to offer you from 2012, moving into 2013, it would be your expectations. Notice when you get upset/angry about something and try to discern what it is that you’re expecting should be happening in that situation. If you want to take it a step beyond, try to tame that expectations. Though, for starters, I think it’s important to notice what it is that you’re expecting in a situation. From here, you’ll certainly be well on your way to determining the root of your unhappiness.

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One response to “If You Want to Be Happy, Tame Your Expectations

  1. Pingback: I’m Gettin’ To Old For This Sh**! | B.K.M.

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