I was listening to Tony Robbins the other day about why we aren’t as happy as we would like to be. What he said really hit home.
Think of a part of your life that you’re unhappy with. It could be your career, your finances, your marriage, your relationships, your children, your health, your spiritual life, whatever.
Now ask yourself, what are your expectations for that part of your life right now? I’m guessing your real life isn’t meeting your expectations. That’s why you’re unhappy.
Greg, you’re crazy. It’s more than that. I’m suffering from some horrible circumstances. You don’t understand the problems I’m facing, the stress I’m under, and the problems with my marriage!
You’re right (except for that crazy part). I don’t know your story. But let me ask you this. If you expected your life to be worse than it is right now, wouldn’t you be happier? If you were exceeding your expectations, wouldn’t you be happier?
If you’re unhappy with your income: Do you think someone from a third world country, surviving on $2 a day would be unhappy with your salary? No! They’ve never even dreamed of making as much money in their lifetime as you make in one year! They would be ecstatic to have your income.
What’s the difference? Expectations. It’s the same in every part of your life.
Our expectations are not facts. They aren’t supposed to happen just because we want them to. Our expectations are really just our wants. We turn our wants into our shoulds. Then, when everything doesn’t meet our expectations we get sad, angry, or both.
Shakespeare put it this way, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”
We all have so much to appreciate in our lives, yet we focus most of our thoughts and efforts on what we don’t have.
But, Greg, I don’t want to lower my standards. I have goals I want to achieve. I want to be motivated and ambitious.
I agree! Me, too! That’s why we need to be grateful for what we have and even more grateful for what we are working on and creating. Here’s what I mean.
First, we need to turn our expectations into appreciations for all we have. Here’s a great exercise to help with that. Every night right before you go to bed, spend five minutes writing down three things that happened that day that you are grateful for. Write down different things each day. It can be something small like, I had a great cup of coffee with a friend, or, my daughter and I went for a walk together. It could be something big as well. Just make sure you write them down. The research shows that if you do that for 30 days, you will be significantly happier. Make it a new habit.
We need to decide that we are going to find the good and beauty wherever we can. That we will learn from whatever comes our way. That we will be grateful for all we have right now – without comparing it to any expectation.
Secondly, we need to get clear on a definition of success that will help us increase our happiness – and reach our goals.
Sometimes we define success in unrealistic ways:
- I will achieve all my goals
- I will make X amount of money
- I will have the perfect family life
- I will have a beautiful house on the beach
- I will have 8% body fat.
If we don’t reach these goals, we feel like failures. Even if we achieve our goals, our feelings of success are brief. We simply come up with new goals and tell ourselves we still aren’t successful. It becomes a never-ending cycle. (Gee, that sounds like fun!)
But, what if we change the definition of success? I like this one:
“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.”
Nightingale went on to say, “A success is anyone who is realizing a worthy predetermined ideal, because that’s what he or she decided to do… deliberately. But only one out of 20 does that!”
We definitely want to be one of the 20. Setting goals and going after them are great things to do. They push us to serve others and to create the extraordinary life of our dreams. But the progress towards the goal is success. The moment we are going after a worthy goal we are successful.
But, if we set up unrealistic expectations we’re setting ourselves up to be unhappy. That won’t help us reach our goals. It will make it harder (and a lot less fun) to get there.
If we change our expectations for the appreciations of what we have, our happiness changes instantly.
So, whenever you are feeling sad, take a look at your expectations. Change your expectations and change how you feel.
Keep moving forward on your goals and keep becoming the person you were created to be. That is a great road of happiness.
(I now offer one to one coaching and an online coaching program for various budgets. Click here for more details.)