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I Love Life

I Love Life
June 28
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JULY 16, 2011 9:40AM

Tweaking Your Expectations Will Make You Happier

Rate: 33 Flag

Lately I've been stressed out and anxious about the "variety show" going on around me. Perhaps calling the plethora of activities a "circus" would be more fitting. Everything is happening all at once and is swirling all around me causing proverbial dust to spin, spray, and splatter at a speed that's out of control. The difference between all this activity and the circus is that there is no clown, the acts aren't entertaining, and nobody is laughing. Not to mention, I don't remember signing up for the show, but I do recall agreeing to commitments such as: homeschooling during the summer, having my two grandkids for two days, taking my daughter-in-law out shopping for her birthday, taking on the never ending flow of paperwork in the house, trying to build my Avon business, and last, but not least, planning a party for my daughter who is coming in town for a honeymoon never taken, after her courthouse wedding. On top of all this, I juggle verbal slights, minor and not so minor iniquities, hurt feelings, unfairness among family members along with a tinge of anger sprinkled here and there.

At some point during the day, maybe it was on the long drive to my son's WeBeLo camp, the eye of the storm descended upon me. An idea hit me that brought me instant peace. You could call it an epiphany, an insight, or you could call it a gift from God. Where ever it came from, it has helped to calm the storm, close the curtains, settle the dust and relax my anxieties. Let me explain.

I used to attend Landmark Education courses quite a few years ago whose purpose is to help individuals live the life they love, obtaining the happiness and joy they desire. One of the principles I learned was centered around the theme of "expectations." Without getting too detailed or elaborate, I'll summarize. Our expectations can actually help to determine how we're going to feel depending on the nature of them. When we have expectations about others, whether it's how we think they should act or what we think they should say, we're setting ourselves up for disappointments which can cause unnecessary stress in our lives.

Applied to my own life, it means that if I expect others to do and think as I do, I will just about always be disappointed, hurt, or angry. If I have ANY preset expectations for anyone in my life, friend, family, or foe, on how they should behave or not behave, I will invariably feel let down if my expectations are not fulfilled. In case you're wondering what to do with this information, simply change your expectations or have none at all....the latter being the more prudent. With no expectations, you won't be looking for or expecting a specific outcome and therefore, won't feel the negative emotion you would normally feel when your expectation is not fulfilled. Some examples of feeling let down, hurt, or disappointed because of my own personal expectations are:

1.) I expect my daughter-in-law to behave similarly as my son. When he comes in town with the kids, he makes sure he visits his in-laws after he visits with us. So, I feel my daughter-in-law should do the same as he does.....visit us (her in-laws) after she visits her own parents. Needless to say, I felt angry and hurt when I found out she came in town for three days for a wedding shower, but didn't come by our home even for a short visit. We only live three miles from her parents. From now on, I'm going to remind myself that my daughter-in-law is NOT my son and will therefore  not expect her to treat us like my son does.

2.) I've raised my kids Catholic and we always went to church every Sunday. I was hoping my grown kids would do the same. They do not. As a matter of fact, two of them dropped out of the Catholic Church; one is a practicing Catholic, but doesn't attend every week, and I don't think my other child attends at all even though she still considers herself a Catholic. My expectations didn't materialize.

3.)Since my parents are younger than my husband's parents, I don't understand why they don't invite their grown kids over for dinner anymore....especially when my older in-laws still do. My husband's parents are still active even though they are in their early 80's. My own parents are 75, but don't do much at all except eat out, and work out three times a week. It finally hit me that it's not fair for me to compare my parents to my husband's parents. I should just let them be who they are.

There are many more examples of carrying around expectations that end up causing negative emotions when the expectations aren't fulfilled. Perhaps, you can think of areas in your own life where YOUR expectations have led you down the wrong path full of unwanted feelings of anger, sadness, hurt, or disappointment. The next time, change your expectations and see what happens!

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As you know, I'm always trying to improve my writing. My husband thought this post came across as a "rant." That's not what I intended. My motive was to write, share, and inform. I thought the examples were necessary, but am wondering if I should delete them. What do you think?
Your message is more important than your style.


Keep writing!
This was well written. I feel lucky that I have been practicing this method for many years but, after reading this, I am reminded of how much frustration I have managed to avoid.
It is a big relief to let go of judgement. I wish my mother could do that. I was watching her at 92 now and sitting in the car commenting on everything that went by and then when we got to the restaurant she had to evaluate every person who came into the door. They either meet her high standards or NOT. And heaven help the person who comes in with a wheelchair. Oh my, she can't understand why they just don't stay home. Sigh. It is exhausting. Thanks for this post. It is not a rant, it is passionate and that is what good writing is all about.
I expect to read more of your good writing here!
Darn it...already forgot your lesson!!!

It DOES seem a little as if you are saying that many do not live up to expectations, and you are probably right.
Thank you, zanelle, for the comment. I do want to clarify one thing though. There is a difference between "expectations" and "judgements." I stopped judging (for the most part) a long time ago....after I realized how weak I am. I still need to work on letting go of "expectations" for my sake, and for my love one's sake. In my opinion, "expectations" can lead to "judgements," but they are really two different things.
I don't see this as a rant at all, I feel it's honest and insightful. Your husband is projecting, perhaps. Anyway, the subject matter is very timely for me. I totally agree when I let go of all expectation I am free to discover life. However, the part I find difficult is accepting the disappointment others convey when I have not lived up to their expectations. I need to learn to reject their notion of what I should be doing and move on. Well done.
No, the examples are not a rant: they are useful for illustrating your point, which is an excellent one. It is especially important not to impose expectations on others when those expectations are based on our needs and not their character and where those expectations are unspoken and thus unknown to them, which is where your examples are effective.

Another key, of course, is to be cadgy about expectations one places on oneself.
I liked this. A pastor once gave a sermon about how to live a happy life, and his #1 point was "give up your rights." I think your point is similar.
I have found that by "lowering" my expectations, I am not so easily disappointed. I don't hear "rant" at all when I read this. I hear you telling your story and making an excellent point.~r
The example could probly be boiled down a tad, Patricia, because, for me anyway, it's the underlying theme that's important, and it's one that's become a fundamental part of my outlook on the rest of my life. In fact, for me the expectation of almost anything is a risk that's usually not worth taking. Happiness? Look at a gorgeous sunset you know should make you happy, and try to feel the happiness you know that gorgeous sunset should bring, and you just might miss it. Striving for the expected connection can distract you from simply enjoying the spectacle for whatever it is and whatever it might bring. Lose the expectation and be open to surprise. It helps me - when I remember to think about it.
Excellent post.
Excellenter comments.
Excellentist community of people here!

(Were you expecting me to not murder grammar? Ha ha!)
how low or how high do you set the bar of expectation? if too low, satisfaction for hurdling over it might be meager; if too high, regret at missing it might not be shatteringly dreadful

and that is the do you set it? a bit of both, but in early and midlife, high..........

Roberto, there is a difference between "ideals" and "expectations." Perhaps you are writing more about ideals. I think we should always aim high when it comes to ideals.
Not a rant at all. I try to live this way myself. Most of the time I'm successful at it, but the closer I am to a situation, the harder it is to let go of expectations. Rather, rationally I am able to let go of those expectations, but deep down inside, I still feel hurt or disappointed. I wish I knew how to truly let go of the expectation, rather than just saying the words. Know what I mean?
We shape our own consciousness, for sure. The Secret was an example of how to do that with hopes and dreams. Your post was a lovely example of how to do that with ordinary, daily expectations. I liked the thought. Thank you.
(p.s. looking at all you do, perhaps your own expectations of yourself are next for your own scrutiny -- you are amazing but extraordinarily committed -- I think I'd like you even without so many in-law events in your corrall)
An important signpost on the road to wisdom.
This is an excellent post. My experiences with Landmark (as a good friend of many people who were going through the various stages of training) were mostly of this sort of "revelation". The work is not unique to Landmark, but they help people get to the root of their problems by removing the language of religion or politics that often set up the conversation for dissent. Naturally, telling people to remove or change their expectations usually leads to anger, and a conversation about entitlement, etc. It takes courage to look at our own hand in creating the happiness and misery around us. By default, misery is almost always someone else's fault (If only they would do as I say, everything would be fine!!). Hopefully, your awareness on this is something that can be shown to your children, either directly or indirectly. Probably more valuable than some of the expectations being met.
If your husband thinks this comes across as a rant, your speaking style may be very different than we assume from this post. He might be assuming this is a left-handed way of complaining about assorted slights. We don't; this looks like a series of examples of the sort of thing you once treated one way but not another and like examples to which your readers would have equivalent experiences.

I'm not sure this is a matter of expectations so much as standards, though. By "standards", I mean how you think things should be done; by "expectations" I mean what you would expect from these people given their assorted track records. I guess it's really an adjustment of both: expectations from the standpoint of looking at each person's behavior closely enough to generate more accurate predictions; standards from the standpoint of being more accepting of whatever their individual patterns are. What this is really about is acceptance because, if you're more accepting, your predictions matter to you a lot less, resulting in less disappointment.

It's good advice, though.
- insightful, Patricia. I didn't think it was a rant at all.
Like you, I to have participated in Landmark Education programs. I recall them giving us 3 elements of an upset. 1. A unfulfilled expectation. 2. An undelivered communication. 3 A thwarted intention. All 3 are present in any given upset. One of the 3 will be paramount over the other 2. These distinction are intended to empower us dealing with life's never ending situations. They can be useful if you apply them. I see by what you've written you have a lot of unfulfilled expectations. Let me suggest you extend invitations or make requests they visit you. What's upsetting you is not their actions, it's your expectations not being fulfilled, that's what's upsetting you. Now you have a say what upsets you. That's my take.
Thank you. I can think of plenty if just a few seconds.
Terrific advice, which I should actively listen to more often! When it comes down to it, the only thing we have control over is our own reaction to a situation. We can choose to react in a way that increases our frustration and anger, or in a way that brings peace.
You're on to something Patricia. Several years ago I had some tumult in life and wound up coping by setting my expectations much lower. I told myself it was a conscious decision but I suppose there was some subconscious impulse at work too. Anyway, the topic put me in mind of Mr. Micawber's timely adage:

"Income sixpence, expenditure five-pence, happiness. Income sixpence, expenditure sevenpence, misery."
I think the reason expectations can be so problematic is because we can never know another person completely. I didn't read this as a rant at all; it's a struggle we all have occasionally, being human and not being mind-readers. In my own experience, I find I've often been wrong when I've been hurt by someone and assumed they did something intentionally to slight me, only to learn the real reason later. Of course some people are intentionally rude and insensitive but I find it's best not to make assumptions.
I think the reason expectations can be so problematic is because we can never know another person completely. I didn't read this as a rant at all; it's a struggle we all have occasionally, being human and not being mind-readers. In my own experience, I find I've often been wrong when I've been hurt by someone and assumed they did something intentionally to slight me, only to learn the real reason later. Of course some people are intentionally rude and insensitive but I find it's best not to make assumptions.
I think the reason expectations can be so problematic is because we can never know another person completely. I didn't read this as a rant at all; it's a struggle we all have occasionally, being human and not being mind-readers. In my own experience, I find I've often been wrong when I've been hurt by someone and assumed they did something intentionally to slight me, only to learn the real reason later. Of course some people are intentionally rude and insensitive but I find it's best not to make assumptions.
I think the reason expectations can be so problematic is because we can never know another person completely. I didn't read this as a rant at all; it's a struggle we all have occasionally, being human and not being mind-readers. In my own experience, I find I've often been wrong when I've been hurt by someone and assumed they did something intentionally to slight me, only to learn the real reason later. Of course some people are intentionally rude and insensitive but I find it's best not to make assumptions.
I'm so grateful to everyone who took the time to comment. I also appreciate your feedback. I'm happy my post didn't come across as a rant. I'm also happy I followed my own heart on posting this on Open Salon. I knew that my Open Salon friends would be generous.
No deleting, no rant, useful information that I will take into consideration in my life. It sounds like a wonderful plan.
Wonderful lessons as well as wonderful writing.
Speaking of expectations, I would expect you to delete 3 of my 4 previous comments (but wouldn't think less of you if you didn't). Not sure how that happened.
Your first paragraph hooked me in so well that you could have ranted away and I would have smiled that I took the bait! I might add one more point, in that if something does bother you and lowering expectations feels slightly hypocritical to your true needs, perhaps diplomatically share your feelings to the person (in a delicate way where you are not telling them they are a "bad" person--ha! good luck! A lot of weight falls on the interpretation) and see what happens. I find "never assume" is a good platitude, along with all you share here. And also, what Matt said. Hummingbirds, cats, and serendipity etc. can fill in the gaps to perfection.
Without examples, and personal ones, not theoretical, you wouldn't make your case.

As is is, however, I think we inevitably have some basic expectations that are reasonable to have, and it's reasonable to feel offended when they're not met. Your DIL not even calling when she was in town is possibly over that line. But I have been in situations when I expected people to do as I did, because it was in the specified rules&procedures mutually agreed to, only to find they did nothing of the sort, of even worked actively behind my back. I don't think that kind of thing fits.
Fabulous piece! Your opening paragraph had me hooked because I could feel the chaos you were describing as a circus. I sometimes have to reset my expectations and it makes a huge difference. Rated!
Your examples illustrate your point, Patricia, so I think they fit well with the rest of your writing, which doesn't sound like a rant. As for the theme you have dealt with, it is a common dilemma shared by many.

Remember A. Lincoln's words, “You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time”, and just try replacing "fool",/i> with "satisfy".
Not a rant but rather a well thought, well written post. Our expectations do indeed drive us.
patricia, i meant expectations not ideals as i am not sure what makes the latter high or low and in my opinion they depend on culture, ambient, faith, religion and so on (your high ideal might be low for me and viceversa)

keep on blogging

Patricia, I could use more on this topic. I'm pretty good at not expecting friends to be like me, or even lovers too.

What I haven't mastered is my kid. Children as young or not so young adults, children we raised as best we could--there is where I struggle with expectations and I imagine that without taking the Landmark courses, it's hard to go deeper into you excellent epiphany. For example my daughter who is an artist has me expecting that 1) she'll finish her last year of college and get her application in on time. 2) I'm expecting more of her in several other ways. Maybe you can address being a mom without expecting our kids to do this or that. I find that the hardest area. I sometimes throw it to the winds, que sera sera. But at essence, I expect and wish that she would not dilly dally and make her life, she's 25 richer by doing things most of her friends have completed. I would love to hear how one lowers expectations for our kids, that is the haredest place to lower expectations because we know some of their moves will not bring them happiness, not in the present and not in the future. My kid is solid and social and often caught up with minor things when she could reach for the stars once in a while.

I know enough to not lay a guilt trip on her, but many parents whose kids are alright wish they'd be more than that. Wonder if this comes up for anyone else. Because it feels hard wired into parenthood, the wish NOT for them to be as we want but for them to not make mistakes that in my case, will leave her without a goal in life when she has talents she ignores. I liked you piece very much but can you address the parental expectations and disappointments. It's a hard one. Good post, most obviously. R
Some good points made rant or not!
A couple of tangential thoughts. I think it is imprtant, when you do have expectations, to make them clear and not rely on others' magical esp powers to know them.

It is also important to manage other people's expectations of you. If you make clear - even under-promise - what you can provide and when, the other person then knows what to expect and can manage their own emotions in advance of the actual meeting, get-together, etc.

As far as the writing, I think the content and examples are great. It could use some general editing to tighten up and fix some wacky sentences like "From now on, I'm going to remind myself that my daughter-in-law is NOT my son and will therefore should not expect her to treat us like my son treats her parents."
Wendy, I understand your point. By the way, I also have a daughter who is an artist and got a couple of undergraduate degrees in art! I tend to have expectations for everyone in my life, varying according to who they are and to how close I am to them, but you're correct about our expectations for our children. I think once they hit adulthood, we have to let them go and make their own decisions with our guidance, if they're willing to listen....and we have to let them live their lives without much interference. Of course, that's easier said than done. I can offer all the advice I want based on my concerns and expectations for my children, but it's up to them to listen. I can't force them to listen to me. Does that help? Does it even make sense? Trust me, I'm still learning about raising children and I have six of my own rangeing from 11 to almost 28!
Keri, good point concerning that sentence. It is long and confusing! I'll try to improve it. Thank you.
i.e. we do it to ourselves.
Nice thread, Patricia, subtle and well said. R
Well, a rant is a legitimate way to speak. I think that this one is not shabby at all. The subject is the message and I believe I get that message, since it reflects many of my own views. Sorry I was so late getting here.
Patricia K,

I found this advice most helpful. I will try to change some of my own expectations.
Nothing wrong with rants :) There are always readers willing to hear it. Keep writing, Patricia.
Very wise, Patricia.
This didn't come across as rant to me at all, by the way...
We are having the exact same issues with our son and his girlfriend. She will not come over, which may seem fine as she's girlfriend, not wife, but as the first grandchild is due in two weeks....I've had to change my expectations! I go to her house now, and it actually works. Not what I expected all around, but...oh well.
We also are dealing with our son's expectations of how we will behave.
He's the one who says we don't have family dinners enough.
I thought, "We don't??"
I enjoyed this post very much : )
My daughter once told me she knew what my expectations of her were and she couldn't meet them. I felt terrible. That was 8 years ago; I things are great
You have certainly stirred my emulsions with this post. Bravo!
Good message! I like the stream of consciousness listing of thingds to do.
I try not to have expectations for others, there is less disappointment that way, and I always have a plan B and plan C
I love this. Have written about it, and used to talk to my daughter about same. Are you a middle child? There is something about pleasing people that goes along with expectations. You have to care. It is a problem I deal with...having two families in addition to my birth family. Aging is one of those things that get in the way. Can't do some stuff anymore. Also have several daughters in-law and a bunch of grand kids. eg: Do I want thank you notes or e-mails for gifts? Yes. Do I give for thanks? No. Do I want my son to call me? Yes. Do I mind that I hear more from his wife? Not least I hear. If your expectations are good then why not have them...if you can handle being disappointed then don't have them. And yes, it is a bit of a rant. But you are entitled. Please read my poetic attempt entitled : is about expectations and more.