The classic example of how high expectations lead to bitter disappointment comes from all of our common backgrounds: our family. Parents, almost universally, have lofty expectations regarding how successful and admirable their children will turn out. Often these expectations are inordinately high and unrealistic. Still, many parents cling to them stubbornly. No wonder, when each of us represents the actual result of such expectations, so many parents end-up so disappointed. In my personal observations over the years, I have found that the most happy and fulfilled of parents tend to have fairly modest expectations on their children; while the most unhappy and unfulfilled of parents seem to place the highest expectations on their children. Essentially, I see this as a reflection of what we find true of happy people in general: their expectations of others is never unrealistically high.
The second, conspicuous category of high expectations which dash happiness is high expectations on oneself.
Here we’re talking about the perfectionist. The kind of person who sets high standards for their behavior and almost unattainable expectations for their performance. Such stringent demands on oneself are bound to put one’s happiness in jeopardy. Some people expect so much of themselves, they’re constantly setting themselves up for disappointments when their best efforts continually fall short of the high mark they’ve set for themselves.
We’ve all been taught that “nobody’s perfect,” but it’s amazing how many people don’t accept it when it comes to themselves. It seems many of us modify the old adage to read “nobody else is perfect,” but somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that we should be. Anything less than perfection is viewed as failure.
Albert Ellis, founder of “rational-emotive therapy,” posited that the idea that we must be perfect is one of the commonly-held ideas that “make us sick” (to put it in his terms). Clinically speaking, perfectionist personalities are often more prone to emotional disorders than those persons who are less hard on themselves.
Nor do perfectionistic tendencies contribute much to happiness. Happy people tend to be a bit more relaxed and not so demanding on themselves.
Perhaps part of the answer is to treat oneself more like you would treat a good friend. Most of us don’t usually expect perfection from our friends. We recognize they’re human — that they have their good points as well as bad points — and we generally accept them that way. Why not treat ourselves the same way?
High expectations of events, high expectations of others, high expectations on ourselves — often these lead to disappointment. If you find that life tends to be a constant series of minor or major disappointments, then (as our formula would suggest) either you’re living a pretty unlucky life (the “Actual Events” are pretty poor), or your expectations are getting in the way or enjoying life for what it is.
If it turns out that your expectations are part of the problem, then you might profit by lowering your expectations to a more realistic level. At least in theory, the less you expect to get from life, the more reward you will receive!