Should We Lower Our Expectations?

I don’t know what to do with the following observation, but it interests me:

Few things exert power over us like our expectations.

If you go to McDonald’s expecting your food in 5 minutes and takes 15, it’s frustrating. But if you went in and the cashier said before you ordered, “I’m so sorry, we’re running behind, and it’s going to be a 20 minute wait for your food,” and the food came out in 16 minutes, you would be pleasantly surprised.

There are reasonable expectations that should always be upheld, like the that another person should respect us and treat us with dignity, or that justice should be provided equally for all people, or that a qualified employee should have the same chance at a job as the next person. This kind of expectation should remain in place even if it’s not met.

There are unreasonable expectations that should always be laid down, like that you will get a lot out of a job or relationship without putting anything into it, or that you should be the one to call the shots in a friendship, or that every trip or weekend getaway should be increasingly lavish and Instagram-worthy. 

The tricky thing is that most of our expectations are somewhere in between. Who’s to say which ones are reasonable and which aren’t? 

It gets particularly difficult when your unmet expectations were originally set by the people not meeting them. The wife you marry decides she made a mistake and wants to leave. Your family member who once was a source of warmth and comfort and now is detached and self-absorbed. The friend you hit it off with for so long is suddenly absent.

If we could somehow learn to manage our expectations we could save ourselves a lot of heartache. 

I have no clue how to do this. I don’t even know if it’s possible. Does lowering your expectations make you a pessimist or does it set you up to be pleasantly surprised? There’s some unrecognizable voice in my head, maybe from some motivational speaker somewhere, that’s telling me this is the sure way to underachievement. 

Or maybe it’s a process and we can learn it like a skill. 

The bottom line is, unmet expectations are the source of all disappointment. For some relationships, the best thing we can do is drop our expectations entirely.

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