23 August 2016

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

There were two ways to be happy:
improve your reality,
or lower your expectations.
Jodi Picoult

Some people I've spoken to think that in order to motivate yourself to work harder towards your dreams is to set higher expectations. That way you are guaranteed to achieve at least half of it. Others believe that keeping expectations low and hoping for less than you can actually get is the key to happiness. And there are people who are convinced that we should have no expectations at all because the outcome is always unpredictable, anyway. The reality, however, is much more complicated.

It is hardly possible to not hold any expectations, or convince yourself to hope for less than your mind is picturing, when you firmly believe that the best is what you deserve. Especially with the, "You can do anything" and "You're special" social messages overflow.

You are special. Are you?

Many years ago, when I was still very young and innocent I remember reading Jane Eyre for the first time. I was left scarred for life, having found out there were times when applying physical punishments to students, even and perhaps, especially, younger ones, was totally alright - with the school staff, as well as with the parents of the poor pupils and the society in general. Something unheard of in the culture I grew up.

I may have only been about 10 years old at the time, but I had already been perfectly aware of... how special I was. I was loved and cherished, morbidly over-protected by my Jewish mother, and my future was something my parents had predicted to be nothing less than "brilliant". No one would have even had a mere idea of so much as raising their voice at me (or my classmates, for that matter), let alone using physical punishments at my school. You can imagine reading something like that would have been a slight shock for a child like me.

It was much later, however, that I discovered pretty much everyone born in the 1970s-1990s time period, the guys from my generation, was special. That was perhaps the very first time I recognised how daunting it can be to have reality mismatch the expectations.

Today, every one of us grows up sacredly believing that there is no employer in this world that wouldn't steal us the moment we graduate from the university, no person that wouldn't want to be with us and no doors that would remain closed the moment we approach them. Then all of a sudden reality hits and young people out there start noticing that no one is fighting for them and their special sets of skills. Eventually, they have to settle for average jobs, according to their point of view, and, in the end, average lives. As a result, the civilised world is overpopulated with miserable unfulfilled people.

Here's the thing. None of us is special, not yet anyway. We might be, one day, when we are certain we've covered a hell of a distance to get what we expect. Even then, however, our so-called exclusiveness will be determined by the transformations we will have undergone, influenced by the experience and wisdom we will have gained on the way to the top of our dreams, even if in the end things will not work out to our exact liking. Because they rarely do.

Wisteria Lane Syndrome.

One of the main things that aggravates people's mass disappointment with the way their lives go is, of course, their online communities.

Modern social network feeds remind me of Wisteria Lane (a fictional street where Desperate Housewives series main setting takes place), the inhabitants of which thoroughly pick out aspects of their lives to demonstrate, so it represents their lifestyles the best way possible. And if there is none, they are happy to make it up, so long as everyone gets to admire the perfectly polished lives they are leading, while often behind the closed doors things might be going completely otherwise.

Watching your friends have perfect lives and observing others literally live your dream can sometimes be truly undermining. It can often make you feel like everyone but you is doing something positive and useful with their lives. So, turns out, not only you are not special, there actually are privileged people out there, after all? But where were you when a secret recipe "How to get it right" had been handed out?

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Personally, I have never seen a person or a family that would voluntarily lay bare the unhappy and less than appealing sides of their lives. There is nothing bad about that. Look at your own self, for instance. Hardly ever would you upload a picture that is less than perfect, regardless of whether it is yourself you are showing off, the food you are eating, the books you are reading, clothes you are wearing or the city you are visiting.

Everyone is selling their self-image the best way they can. Someone is more skilled at that, while others less so, but all of us is guilty. It's simply how the modern world is, it doesn't mean someone is living better or happier than you, it just means they, just like you, aren't showing the worse sides of their lives.

So why do you get disappointed in your life whenever you notice members of your community seemingly do better than you? Have you ever thought that your social network friends most likely remain dissatisfied too, when they watch your life that seems so perfect to them?

Your life is beautiful.

We have little control over a lot of things in life, the outcomes being one of them. Apart from the process and efforts we put into them to get what we want, and the attitudes and reactions we have towards everything in the world, these are the things completely under our control.

In my opinion, the key to happiness is not so much lower (or higher) expectations, but rather the ability to never disappoint when something goes contrary to what you had expected. Because it happens more often than we realise. And when it does, add it to the piggy bank of your experience, you've just become a little bit wiser and stronger.

No expectations means no goals. No goals means there is no development. No development leads to meaningless, uninteresting life. For ambitious people goals are everything. So how can you keep going with no expectations at all? Our vision of how things should be keeps us going, even if there are no guarantees.

Your life might not be special on the grand scale, but it most definitely is special for you. Your life is wonderful because it is yours. You are not pretending to be happy when you are, you are not pretending to be busy, curious, in love, inspired, sometimes unhappy and discouraged, maybe even in trouble at some point.

It is what the life consists of - ups and downs - happy moments don't last forever, unfortunately; as well as what seems like the end of the world today might not matter for you in a years time. Never let the views of how things should be, prevent you from enjoying life the way it actually is. Live your life.
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