Why Having Expectations Will Make You Unhappy

why having expectations will make you unhappy

A few days ago, my daughter and I had an argument.
Now, my daughter is 5 years old and I’m, well, let’s say… older.
I can’t remember exactly what it was about, but it probably was something inconsequential, like what pyjamas to wear or what DVD to watch. Nevertheless, this was something big in her world.
After a short exchange of replies that resulted in me not changing my mind and her not getting what she wanted, she said ‘Mummy, you made me sad. I’m not your friend anymore.’
Now, let’s pause for a moment. This comes from a 5-year old so it’s easy to think of it as child talk, and that she’ll forget all about it or end up seeing it my way and not be upset with me anymore.
And I agree. She did forget about it after a few minutes.
But that’s not the point. Let me tell you what the point is and then I’ll come back to my little story.
The point is that this is how so many of us instinctively react when we don’t get what we want. When we want/expect/look for something that is important to us, and we don’t get it we do exactly as my daughter did.
It could be attention from our partner, appreciation for a job well done at work, a call from a friend when we are sick, signing a business contract on our terms, the train being late and making us miss a meeting, etc.
There are a few lessons here that go hand in hand.
First of all, we set expectations of the world around us: we expect the bus to come on time, our partner to love us, our children to respect us, the government to do its job properly, the weather forecast to be accurate, the driver in front of us to drive faster or to brake less, etc.
Setting expectations is not a bad thing in itself, but doing this for external things that we can’t control, like other people, or the weather, will only cause us heartache.
Expect nothing of others, take people and situations as they are.
That doesn’t mean to accept anything and everything others throw at you, but to understand that the only thing you can fully control is yourself, and that should be where you start from.
Because more times than not, the expectations you set for others to meet are not met.
Our partners, our children, the train company, other drivers, the weather, the government don’t act as we’d expect them to. And that makes us sad, angry, resentful, fearful, stressed, unhappy, etc.
But why do we react like that?
When we set an expectation we see it as being entirely someone else’s responsibility.
Most of the time it’s not. We need to see our part of the responsibility in every situation.
We are just as responsible for being late as is the train company when our train is late. We could have taken into account this possibility and budgeted some extra time for it. We are just as responsible of our relationship as is the other person. We can’t control the weather or the government, but we can try and anticipate some things.
Which brings me to the third lesson this little story has for us.
It’s not what is happening to us that is making us unhappy, but the way we react to the events in our life.
If our train is late, and we haven’t allowed for this in terms of time so now we’ll surely be late for that meeting, then the key is in how we react to what’s happening.
We can choose to blame the train company for ruining our work day and relationship with a potential client, and start stressing over it, or we can choose to acknowledge we carry some fault in this, call the client to let them know and apologise, and learn to better manage our time.
If our partner isn’t giving us the attention we’re looking for, instead of feeling resentful and not appreciated, we can choose to chat about it with him/her and see what is going on in their world. Maybe they’re also not getting enough attention from us, so don’t feel like they are wanted around.
Whatever happens, the way we react will make things better or worse. And, in order to control our reactions, we need to look at the expectations we set out for others and what our responsibility is, too.
For me, this change in perspective has made my life less stressful and me more aware. Try it sometime and let me know how it goes.
P.S. If you’re wondering what happened to our little argument, here it is.
I told my daughter that no-one can make her sad, she is the only one who can make herself sad, because no matter what happens, it’s the way you react to what’s happening to you that really matters. And that you can control, whilst you can’t control other people and the way they act.
She probably didn’t get much of what I’ve explained to her, but I like to start early because I believe some of it stuck with her and I’ll continue to add on to this foundation as she grows up.
If you’d like to work on how you manage your reactions and expectations, build your assertiveness and resilience, drop me a message at [email protected] and let’s have a chat to see how I can help.
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