Can Lower Expectations Increase your Happiness?

“There are two sides of expectations – what we expect from others and what we expect from ourselves”. – David Rock, Author & Director of NeuroLeadership Institute, a global research organization.

There’s a reason why we feel disappointed when our expectations are not met. When you have an expectation, whether it be about birthdays, relationships or work, when your expectation is met, a neurotransmitter dopamine is released in our brain. This neurotransmitter dopamine makes us feel good, especially when something positive happens. When our expectations are not met, we experience strong negative feelings.

Birthdays are a day where expectations are high, very high – for some. As someone who enjoys celebrating their birthday, I’ve felt very disappointed when I’ve made birthday plans and people haven’t turned up, despite confirming that they would be in attendance.

So as I approached my birthday this year I was determined to lower my expectations, it was very difficult at first, but I managed to get through the day and felt less disappointment by the end of the day. This got me thinking about expectations in other areas in my life, and how I can lower them.

When expectations are or aren’t met, there are changes in the brain. Not only does the brain get slightly unhappy, it also sends out a message of danger or threat.

So how do we manage our expectations and should we lower them?

Whilst it’s understandable to lower our expectations, it also important to be adaptive. Understand what is in your control and what is not. Sometimes we also tend to have unreasonable expectations at two extremes. 

Let’s take a job hunter for example, although the job market may be tough in these economic times and there’s nothing that the job hunter can do about it, they may have an unreasonable expectation of being hired quickly or an assumption that they’ll never work again.

Expectations & Work

“There’s a difference between goals, standards, and expectations” – Jenna Marbles

When starting a goal or project, it’s good to be adaptive and perhaps have low expectations. Having low expectation doesn’t mean you that you don’t want it to work or you won’t work hard towards your goal or project. It means that you won’t focus excessively on the outcome. Although you may have control over the creative process, you don’t have control over the end product.

Expectations & Relationships

In relationships, expectations can get in the way and cause problems. Expectations are different from standards – we should, of course, have standards and we definitely shouldn’t tolerate mistreatment or abuse. Expectations are the belief that something will (or should) happen in the future, and of course, our expectations are not always met which leads to disappointment.

Expectations also take us away from being in the present moment. If we’re focused on the future or the past, it can hold us back from enjoying and interacting with others. It’s also difficult to NOT have expectations when we meet new people, but by having reduced expectations it helps you to create new, positive relationships.

Expectations & Big Events

The expectation when it comes to big events such as birthdays, weddings, and holidays can drive us wild. I believe that having low expectations when it comes to big days allows you to have a peace of mind. Again, this is not to say that you don’t want the day to go well, it just means that lower expectations will reduce your anxiety.

Expectations & Self Love

Self-love is a journey that most of us struggle with. Having low expectations for yourself can help reduce the pressure you put on yourself. It can also open you up to new experiences, new ways of thinking, and the opportunity to love who you are.

“When you have certain expectations for yourself, you limit your choices. And you limit what you can do in your life by what you’ve already set as what you want. People get stuck in their thinking and they refuse to see all of the options besides them beside because they’re stuck in their expectations of their life. If I do X, I’ll get Y, when in reality, if you do X, you could get any other letter in the alphabet – including X again!” – Jenna Marbles

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