Dealing With Expectations Part Two: Life

What do you expect from life?  Unrealized expectations haunt many of us, particularly when we hit middle age and beyond.  Perhaps you expected to rise to the top of your profession and haven’t.  Or you thought your marriage would be perfect and it isn’t.  Or you thought you would sail through your kids’ teenage years, and then the ship sank.

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Most of us have unrealized dreams.  Some may be fulfilled later, and some may never become reality  If we EXPECT life to work the way we dream, we can go down hard when it doesn’t happen. 

Many people believe that happiness depends on positive circumstances.  Interestingly, studies have found that only 10%-20% of your happiness comes from circumstances.  The other 80%-90% results from your outlook on life.  People have a happiness set-point, to which they return within a year of a positive or negative event.  What you think about life matters much more than your circumstances.  When you think life should be better than it is, you feel discouraged and disappointed.

Four forces behind higher expectations


In 1950, the average single-family house was 983 square feet.  In 1970, it rose to 1,500.  As of 2010, the average size was 2,392.  And it doesn’t stop there.  Televisions, cable TV, smart phones, our wardrobes.   Prosperity has raised our expectations of what is considered normal.


The media feeds into that.  Commercials that constantly tell us what we deserve.  Reality television that skews reality.  Celebrity magazines make us expect that our lives should be as good as theirs.


Technology allows you to customize your life.  You can shop from a cafeteria of television channels and select shows to fit your tastes.  Lower electronics prices allow every family member to watch exactly what they want when they want it.  Internet news has the same effect.  You can choose the political slant and hear only what you want to hear.  Social Media helps you connect with people who think exactly like you.  It’s easy to believe that all of life should work just the way you want, and as controllable as your remote.

World View

  • Cause and Effect: Everything that happens is because of something that either I or someone else did.  Thus, when something bad happens, someone must be at fault.  With this world view, anything that doesn’t fit the model causes distress.  Dealing with difficult circumstances is difficult enough.  When real life collides with your world view, your entire world can collapse.
  • Justice:  Belief that everything has to be fair and right.  When bad things happen, we believe that it should be balanced out by something good.  No one likes bad things to happen to them.  But happen they will.  Our growth and happiness is directly related to our ability to persist through difficulty.  When we expect life to always be fair, we deal not only with the problem, but also our reaction to the injustice of it all.
  • Human Nature:  If you believe that man is always good, you will often be disappointed or worse.  People get tired, sick, stressed.  They don’t always act “good”.  And some people have let their evil nature override whatever good is in them.  If you believe that man is evil, you will always be looking for bad to happen.  Because your mind is focused on evil, you are more likely to find it.  I had a co-worker that believed that all men were chauvinists.  Every action taken by our male co-workers was interpreted in that light.  In addition, her attitude toward them came out in her body language and behavior.  They were more likely to react negatively toward her, thus perpetuating her stereotype.

Prosperity, media, technology, and world view.  All can create expectations that real life cannot possibly live up to.  In my next post, I will talk about how to develop healthy expectations.

Question:   What do you expect from life?  How have those expectations impacted you for better or worse?  Click here to leave a comment.