in buddhism

Expectations

When we are unsatisfied with how things are, including ourselves, we make changes, but then what? We are still unsatisfied, because the root cause of this problem isn’t the things around us (or how we look, etc.), but our expectations. We expect things to be different. — Leo Babauta – “being OK with things as they are”

Recently I came to the conclusion that most problems are a result of dealing with expectations. Problems and unhappiness tend to pop up as we try to live up to other’s expectations. As we try to live up to our own expectations. As we try to live up to society’s expectations.

Why does this happen? I can think of a few reasons:

  • The results of the change don’t meet your expectations. (“The grass is always greener on the other side.”)
  • The goal posts keep moving. (“Never good enough.”)
  • The expectations you are trying to live up to are imagined or superficial. (Media induced expectations are huge, especially for women.)

I’m sure there are more.

The more you can let go of expectations and focus on the present: appreciate who you are, the good in things and people (as they are), and what’s important to you, the happier you’ll be…

Leo (from the same post linked above) has a simple approach to tackle this:

Sit for a minute and look at the things around you. Are you happy with them, or would you like things to change?

[…]

Now, for each thing you think needs change, try sitting for a minute and see if you can simply accept each one, as they are right now. See if you can accept each person in your life for who they are, exactly as they are. See if you can accept your body for what it is, without the need for change. It takes practice, so if you aren’t good at it at first (and I’m still not a master at it myself), practice. It’s an enlightening process, to be sure.

Leo also addresses change:

This doesn’t mean we’ll never change anything. We can develop healthy habits and make our bodies healthier over time, but we can do that while also being happy with who we already are. Change is inevitable, but it doesn’t necessarily require that we not accept things as they are, that we not be happy with things as they already are.

I think it’s important to note that accepting doesn’t mean the same thing as settling1. The process of “accepting” and removing expectations involves a thorough look at the positive things2 you, your relationship, or job bring to the table. Focusing on these positives will help you put the negatives in perspective and then to decide whether or not you can accept them.

In general, we need to spend more time focusing on the positive, as our society (especially the media) tends to focus on two things:

  1. the Negative (failure, death, crime, etc.)
  1. “Perfection” (celebrities, wealth, beauty, etc.)

By focusing on these, the media helps to create the imagined, un-realistic, or superficial expectations many of us strive to achieve, rather than simply appreciating all the good things we have in our life.

In the end, I’d rather spend my time enjoying, appreciating, and building off what I do have, rather than wishing for different, striving for things that don’t create happiness, or feeling bad about what I do have in my life.

With that, I’ll leave you with Louis C.K.: “Everything is amazing and nobody is happy.”

  1. Even “settling” has negative connotations, despite the definition: “to make or become quiet, calm, or stable. To put in order; arrange in a desired state or condition. To be satisfied with. 
  1. I’d bet in most cases, there are positives you haven’t noticed before or at the very least haven’t thought about in a long time.