Hope, Expectations and Disappointments

If we have no expectations, we will have no disappointments. But this is difficult if not impossible to do.

Perhaps I should first distinguish between expectations and hope.  When I use the word expectation I am referring to a belief that a particular event or action will occur. When we hope something happens, we are acknowledging that there is little likelihood of it occurring, e.g., I hope to win the lottery. We would like it to happen, but we don’t expect it. When we expect something to happen, we feel disappointed when it doesn’t, e.g., I expected to get the promotion and it was given to someone else. With expectations we anticipate that the event will in fact occur.  When we hope something happens, we rarely feel terribly disappointed when it does not occur. However, when we expect something to happen and it does not occur, we are disappointed. Too often we turn a hope into an expectation. As I will illustrate below, when this happens we risk increasing our disappointment because the discrepancy between what we now expect and the reality of what actually happens is magnified.

If we want to reduce our disappointments we should differentiate between hope and expectations and reduce the number of expectations.

Modulating expectations

Too often we have expectations that far exceed the probability of having those expectations met.  We should always ask ourselves what is a reasonable expectation. A reasonable expectation meets certain criteria. Is the expectation appropriate for the circumstance. It is reasonable, for example, to expect to be able to run a marathon without training for it? Is it reasonable to expect to be accepted to Harvard University with an SAT score of 1000 and a GPA of 3.0? Is it reasonable to expect a new president to reverse the  national and world wide economic recession that he inherited in only three years?

More often than not when we feel disappointed, we tend to have higher expectations than warranted by the data at hand. We often want something to happen so badly that we exaggerate the likelihood of the occurrence beyond any realistic probability that the desired outcome will occur. When this happens, we experience far greater disappointment.

A teenage girl wants the high school football star to ask her to the prom. She hardly knows the boy, but harbors a fantasy of being with him. She builds the fantasy into an expectation based on the fact that he may have said good morning to her. She has little data to support her expectation and yet when he asks someone else to the prom, she feels devastated. This is a case of unwarranted expectation leading to a big disappointment. A boy with moderate scores on the SAT and a mediocre GPA builds an expectation of being accepted to Harvard. When the rejection letter arrives, he is disappointed big time. In both of these instances, the two teenagers built an expectation on limited data and in each case there was a very small probability of having their expectations met. They turned hope (or fantasy) into an expectation.

In the political arena, people had high hopes for President Obama to change the direction in which our country heading. They had high hopes that he would be able to reverse the economic recession. These were hopes turned into expectations. There was no evidence to support the expectation. Obama was a first term senator with no experience leading a country. He had limited experience in politics and no experience with economics. Yet people expected him to meet their expectations. They built their expectations on hope and when he didn’t come through, they felt greatly disappointed. There was a severe disconnect between their hope and the reality of what was reasonable to expect. Rather than adjust their expectations to that reality, they continued hoping with the result that they are now so disappointed that want to find another candidate who will meet their expectations no matter how unreasonable or improbable.

If we want to minimize our experience of disappointment, it is necessary that at the very least we have to differentiate hope from expectation, evaluate our expectations in terms of actual data and the probability of having them met, and adjust our emotional response accordingly. If we do otherwise we set ourselves up to feel disappointment and frustration, not to mention unhappiness.

Perhaps we would be better off if could hope without expectations.

*****

[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica – Los Angeles. The profits from his latest book, LIVING LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT along with his other five books, are being donated to charity through the website Book Royalties for Charity and can be purchased through Amazon.com. Please become a fan on his Facebook Fan Page by indicating “like” on the page by clicking here. You can also find more tools to help you experience a more fulfilling life by clicking here to visit his website.]

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