There is no how to for happiness. There is no magic pill that makes happy either. Instead, there are key factors that influence happiness. One of the most influential key factors are expectations.
Having wrong expectations makes us unhappy. Expectations set up baselines for our reactions. If we exceed our expectations, it makes us happy. If we don’t meet our expectations, it makes us unhappy.
Remember how you felt after an exam in school. We all had certain expectations what grade we would get.
Let’s assume you practiced for a good grade in your last English exam. After the exam you feel confident and begin to expect a good grade. Two weeks later your teacher is back with your grade. It’s mediocre or even bad. You react with negative emotions. You feel miserable.
Let’s assume on the other side you didn’t practice at all. After the exam you have a bad gut feeling and begin to expect a bad grade. Two weeks later your teacher is back with your grade. It’s good; you almost can’t believe it. You react with positive emotions. You feel happy and grateful.
Expectations are up to us!
Most people set their expectations unconsciously. Don’t be one of them! Instead, be aware of your expectations. Think about them and manage them.
You’re in full control of your expectations. Use it to your advantage. Don’t set your expectations too high. Rather, set your expectations too low. In other words, have realistic expectations! (, based of facts)
Stoicism on Expectations
The ancient Stoics knew about the influence expectations have on happiness. Following two paragraphs from the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius make it clear.
“Do not expect Plato’s ideal republic; be satisfied with even the smallest step forward, and consider this no small achievement.“ – Marcus Aurelius
In other words, don’t expect things to be perfect.
“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness—all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.” – Marcus Aurelius
The Stoics in general set their expectations very low to preserve tranquility.
Don’t set your expectations too high. Rather, set your expectations too low. In other words, have realistic expectations!