My last post was about the idea of “deserving”. Over the weekend, I started to think about the idea of expectations. If we think about expectations in the macro, in 1650 Thomas Hobbes wrote that life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. For almost three hundred years, most of human kind had similar expectations to those of Hobbes. It is only in the past 60 years that most people in the developed world have been able to have expectations of peace, prosperity and happiness. Indeed, as our prosperity has increased, so have our expectations. The average size home in the US has grown from 1,400 square feet in the 1960s to 2,400 square feet in 2005. On average one-third of the space in most homes is never used. (Source: Matthew May, In Pursuit of Elegance. 2009). Our expectations have grown with our pocketbooks. Yet our reported happiness has actually decreased over time.
So all of this may be true. Maybe the solution is to manage our expectations. As I noted in my last post, a recent article on happiness in the Atlantic magazine, shows that one of the factors in happiness is having reasonable expectations. Perhaps it we would be better to have no expectations at all.
The more we have expectations, the more we are unable to respond if the circumstances don’t fit our expectations. The more we have to work to adjust them, and the more disappointed we are when our expectations are not met. Often we’re not even aware of our expectations, yet they are with us all of the time. Learning to live with lower expectations is a challenge in our era of “deserve”, but I think might be part of the road to accomplishment and contentment. We will be less disappointed with ourselves, and with others around us. That can’t be bad.
So I was merrily planning this post sitting at my computer, when I was distracted by a random thought about a personal situation. As I started to think about it, I realized that I had immediately jumped to a set of expectations about the situation, and about the person. So much for learning to operate without expectations. Maybe the best I can do is to examine my expectations and test them to see if they are reasonable. Air them with others to ensure that we share expectations. Be aware of the dangers of expectations and manage them appropriately.