One of my all time favorite posts from Swami ji is the Himalayan Expectations . He writes “Expectations are those desires you believe you have the right to see fulfilled. Due to your own conditioning by numerous factors, you develop expectations. They are the primary cause of all grief and stress.”
Indeed happiness is the gap between expectations and reality.
A few weeks back, I went to my son’s school to attend a ceremony where they were felicitating students (including my son) for their scholastic achievements .My chest was puffed up with pride but I was very anxious since I couldn’t find an Uber or Ola to get me there . As a knight in the shining armor, my husband offered to drop me .
You may think, what’s so earth shattering about that ….let me tell you for me this offer was HUGE. My husband considers any involvement with household tasks, a TOTAL waste of (his)time. Despite my pleading , complaining , shouting and requesting over last 17 years, this stance hasn’t changed one bit . So, this offer came as a pleasant surprise. What was even more surprising was as he dropped me – he told me he will try to come back in an hour to pick me.
This was like the eighth wonder of the world . And since there is no eighth wonder, as you know ….I decided in my head, he was just being nice . In anycase, he forgets to reach even when he commits ( mind you this is true only in personal situations not in official ones). He is just forgetful and gets lost in his ruminations or the mobile games or in watching TV . And hence given the historical trend ( remember I am an economist by education ) I have tempered my expectations and have changed my default assumptions .
So, after an hour when I came out of the hall – I didn’t look around . To precipitate Murphy’s law, my phone was dead and so I was trying to hail an auto or cab . This was proving to be difficult on a dark ,foggy and cold winter morning . I couldn’t even call anyone to request them to book a cab. I stood there shivering and my patience turning into desperation. Suddenly , like magic, a car emerged from the fog and stopped right in front of me . I rubbed my eyes . I couldn’t believe it was my dear husband waving to me . I couldn’t stop gushing and thanking him. He looked puzzled . “ Aisa kya kiya maine?”( what did I do to deserve this ) he asked with genuine surprise . I told you I will come to pick you !”
“But you never do !” I exclaimed . “Hence, I didn’t expect you to !”
He just smiled . But I felt a surge of gratitude and happiness . In that moment my joy knew no bounds . I didn’t expect him to come but he did . That was what made me ecstatic. Oh the small joys of life !
As I reflected further , my expectations were set super low because I had been disappointed innumerable times when I actually expected him to turn up. My happiness, I realized, had been a function of the gap between my expectations and his behavior. Mathematically speaking ,
Happiness= Reality- Expectations
And wait , this isn’t just true for my little story only .
This is what happens when companies beat the stock market expectations – the share price zooms . And when they fall short of the street estimates – the stock price falls flat . Note that the absolute performance of the company may be phenomenal – but what matters is the performance relative to stock market expectation !!
Apollo 11 was the first time in history humans visited another celestial body.
You’d think that would be an overwhelming experience – literally the coolest thing any human had ever done. But as the spacecraft hovered over the moon, Michael Collins turned to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and said:
“It’s amazing how quickly you adapt. It doesn’t seem weird at all to me to look out there and see the moon going by, you know?”
Three months later, after Al Bean walked on the moon during Apollo 12, he turned to astronaut Pete Conrad and said, “It’s kind of like the song: Is that all there is?” Conrad was relieved, because he secretly felt the same, describing his moonwalk as spectacular but not momentous.
If walking on the moon left astronauts underwhelmed, what does it say about our own earthly goals and expectations?
I hope your realized, that meeting expectations – does not give any one any extraordinary tick of joy – for it was always expected . The tsunami of misery drowns you when the outcome falls short of the expectations . A wave of happiness lifts you up when you exceed them.
Everyone ,everywhere is working hard to create the space between the reality and expectations.
Billionaire and legendary investor, 98 year old Charlie Munger was asked recently the secret behind his happiness and contentment . “The first rule of a happy life is low expectations. If you have unrealistic expectations you’re going to be miserable your whole life. You want to have reasonable expectations and take life’s results good and bad as they happen with a certain amount of stoicism.”
We often try and control the other variables in life over which we have no control, ignoring the humungous impact our own expectations have on our happiness.
As an example , I can’t control my husband’s reactions , you can’t dictate the performance of a company , you have absolutely no control over your boss’s judgement of your performance – but you do control something which is far more critical . Your own expectations . Set them realistically and you will never be disappointed with any outcome .
The lesson here isn’t to have a pessimistic and doomsday view of the world or human kind however . What we should realize is that we often take our expectations side of the equation for granted and immovable- and ignore the impact they have. Failing nine times and having a big win on the tenth attempt is about as good as it gets in a lot of things – investments, relationships, careers, etc. When you accept that losing often is the only path to winning occasionally, it’s easier to keep your expectations low without losing ambition and motivation.
The expectations game is a mental game that we all play( or are forced to play) everyday. Its crazy and its agonizing . But knowing that the key -is to control the lever in your hands ( which is often forgotten) is -what makes the difference between victory and defeat. Between Happiness and Disappointment.