How to Manage Your Own Expectations

I remember in high school, I was on the train ride back home with a good friend of mine. He was all excited to show me this new "theory" that he came up with. It basically went like this: expectation and happiness have a strange relationship. The greater your expectation, the more extreme your happiness/disappointment is with the result. And likewise, the lower your expectation, the less you will be moved by reality. Through some logic and "math," he concluded that it was in our best interest to never have high expectations but to level them off in order to protect ourselves from these roller coaster emotions.

I replied with, "if two people are in a relationship without any expectations of each other...the relationship will eventually go nowhere. Expectations are necessary risks to make for that potential of happiness." And with that, our conversation ended.

But even after that, I always battled with myself to maintain that perfect balance of expectations. When to hold back, and when to pursue more. It was a very delicate balance and often times, in relationships or in career directions, I would be left disappointed and unhappy. I never thought that there could be another way to view this idea of expectations and reality. But then I realized that at the core of it...disappointment stems from when our reality doesn't meet our expectations. So maybe the issue isn't about our expectations but our perception of reality.

The other day I was reading a book called "Emotional Equations," that talked about just that. We think that reality is set and it's not something that we can change. However, if we think about it, our perception of reality really skews everything for us -- even whether we will feel happy or upset over a situation. For example, let's take the Olympics, most bronze winners are happier than silver medalists. But both athletes expected and worked to win gold so their expectations were the exact same. The paradox lies in the idea of counter factual thinking. Silvers measure themselves upwards and compare themselves to the golds, while bronzes measures downwards to those who win no medal at all. So interestingly, "It's not our expectations that we need to curb; it's out sense of entitlement that leads is to be bitterly disappointed."

In another scenario: normally, we would be happy if we've gotten a 5% raise but if we find that our co-workers received 10%, our happiness for our accomplishment is decreased. Now it's clear that it's not about lowering expectations but about controlling our perception. To me, this leads back to the idea of gratitude. Always be grateful and appreciative to the opportunities and people that we are blessed with. This doesn't mean we need to live a stagnant life where we no longer seek more and more. We should continuously try to better ourselves, but it's just as important to be happy with who we are in the now.