Trading expectations for gratitude
Expectations are the Killer of Joy
Time and time again we find that when we enter into something with expectations, almost inevitably, it doesn’t turn out the way we had hoped. It is true with all things. Trying out a new paleo recipe? The puppy we got from the local shelter that we were told was perfectly housebroken? A new relationship? An old relationship? Our mothers?
Every single one of these, when we attach our own expectations to it, has potential to become a disaster. That recipe didn’t have the soft and gooey texture we had hoped. The puppy had an accident on your new white rug. That guy was about as narcissistic as they come. And, mothers, need I say more?
When we go into a situation or a relationship with another human there will be let downs and disappointments. This is true about everything in life. Things rarely go as we hope they will. Life has a tendency to throw a curve ball. The more expectations we have that any given event or interaction will go a certain way, the more of a chance we have to be disappointed.
When we embrace the lessons from each experience instead of pining over what it could have been, we are free to allow each other to learn and grow on our own journeys in life. In other words, if we let our significant other go of the expectations that they will replace the toilet paper roll, we free them from the box that we put them in and allow them to be free to learn that a roll placed on the back of the tank will potentially fall into the bowl or be hard to find at 2 am, and we get the opportunity to learn patience.
Letting It All Go
I know the idea is easier said than done, but what if we just didn’t have any expectations? We take each interaction or endeavor for the lessons that it has to offer. The other side of these expectations is so much more joy.
It has taken me a lot of years to figure out that this was the only way to be free. That my expectations actually weighed me down. And were all useless anyway.
The first step is the inner talk we all have. Instead of hyping yourself up with each new thing, change the inner talk. When we encounter a new relationship, a new recipe, job interview, whatever the circumstance is, we don’t go down the road of what if. Instead tell yourself you are excited at all the possibilities that will come. The lessons you may learn. The blessings that this situation or person will bring.
The next step comes after. After the relationship comes crashing down around us. After the recipe goes into the garbage. After the dog chews your brand new birkenstocks to pieces.
Let go. This is the step that makes the biggest difference in our own life. This step we cannot go down the road of what ifs and I wish. This is where we are open to the lesson we learned and we tell ourselves what we learned and how the experience changed us.
It is ok to have hope and it is ok to be disappointed that whatever it is didn’t happen as you had hoped. The problem comes when we hold onto our expectations with an iron fist. We hold them as the golden standard, as if our way of believing is the only right way, and anything less than that is disaster.
I spent many years of my life holding everyone in my life to my own standard of “perfection”. Including myself. No one ever added up. Including myself. All that ever helped me accomplish was a lot of hurt and bitterness.
Trade it for Gratitude
The final step is that we have gratitude. We trade our disappointment for unmet expectations for gratitude. Gratitude is the key to our happiness. Several studies have shown that sincere gratitude is linked to happiness. That being thankful for your life and situation will bring happiness, not the other way around.
This takes practice. Finding the part of whatever it is that you are thankful for when things didn’t go as you hoped. Letting the bitterness and frustration go and embracing the lesson that life had to offer.
I know this is easier to say than do most of the time. And even after practicing gratitude for years, I still have moments of struggle. But the benefits are worth it. So next time you start to feel the kindling of bitter unmet expectations, look for something you can feel gratitude for in the situation instead.
One Practice that is very helpful in this is a “gratitude journal”. This is basically a journal in which you write in daily three different things that you are grateful for. If you can’t think of three, do at least one.
You can’t write the same thing each day. So if you said you are thankful for your family, you can’t say that again the next day. You could say you are grateful for your spouse, child, etc but it would be better to say “ I am grateful that I can share my dreams with my spouse” or I am grateful for my child’s laugh. At first this may be hard, but being as specific as possible will help you to see how much you truly have.
Psychology today posted this article The 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Being Grateful. The benefits include physical health, psychological health, better sleep, better relationships, more mental stamina and more.
The practice of being grateful is incredibly beneficial. But it is a practice. When I first started keeping a gratitude journal I struggled to find new things each day. But the more I did it, the easier it got. I started seeing so many thing in my life that were blessings I could cherish.