There are some that say, the key to happiness lies in having no expectations. On the surface, this may seem true. Often, our unhappiness stems from dissatisfaction when reality doesn’t match up with our expectations. This becomes the reasoning behind actively working towards happiness by managing expectations.
But, having no expectations makes me decidedly, unhappy. Looking into the future and expecting nothing from it seems to defy my definition of living. Our expectations form the future form the basis of hope. Whenever we set a goal or make a plan — for the short or long term — we are hoping for something, and expecting something from the future. Without these expectations to guide us, life would become directionless and meaningless.
Expectations are also at the core of any committed relationships, without which we cannot build trust. We expect that those we love are interested in what matters to us. We expect that promises are kept. To be truly free from expectations is to not relate, and few of us would much happiness in that.
I am not arguing against the value of mindfulness nor the merits of being present and experiencing it with one’s full attention. Some of my happiest moments are spent hiking, paddling, or camping, activities where I am most free to simply enjoy the moment for what it is. An yet, even these experiences come with expectations: plans made based on a weather forecast, a planned destination set up camp, a distance to cover before it gets dark.
Most parents would wish happiness for their children. Yet, we do not typically raise children to have no expectations of life. We wish for them to stand up for themselves and others and generally, to challenge the status quo, if necessary, to make the world a better place. Deep down, we appreciate the difference between gratefulness and complacency. Many of us become fearful as we age and begin to confuse satisfaction with a fear of the alternative.
What, then, is a better alternative to not having expectations? Perhaps it is to embrace the unexpected: to see unexpected outcomes as a springboard for new opportunities and to have the courage to change expectations accordingly.