This morning I woke with the thought ‘Great Expectations’ and of expectations in general. So often in life what we expect and what actually occur are two very different things. I did a course once where they said that ‘all upset comes from unmet expectations’ and I think that on some level this to be true.

If this is true what can we do about it? According to psychologists, expectations are a type of magical thinking where we think if we expect something to happen it can happen, and they even include prayer and affirmations as forms of magical thinking. Secondly , psychologists say that as human beings we have a natural tendency to pin our hopes for happiness on fulfilled expectations. 

Research on moral psychology tells us that expectations among people are often based on an implicit social contract. That is, without actually verbalising expectations about give-and-take in a relationship, people construct stories in their heads about legitimate expectations of each other. So, people in a relationship have a “deal” in which the specifics of the deal are never really talked about. It is hard for someone to live up to your expectations when they don’t know what they are, but you still might see this failure as a violation of your social contract.

We also need to distinguish between realistic and unrealistic expectations.  Believing that an unverbalised expectation will bring you what you want is magical thinking and is unrealistic. Expecting that doing what in the past has reliably brought about a result you want is realistic. Expecting others to do what is in your interest, but not their interest, is unrealistic. Expecting others to do what is in both of your interests can be realistic.

Children are frequently unresponsive to expectations due to their immaturity and natural rebelliousness, but this can apply to functioning adults as well. This is because as adults each of us has our own desires and agendas. We want to do what we think is in our own best interest. If we expect other people to act in ways that are not consistent with our own interests, they will probably resist our expectations, leaving us resentful. Furthermore, the person is likely to resent you, too as after all, how do you feel when people expect you to do things that are inconsistent with your own goals and values?

Communication then is key in meeting expectations as well as in realising that we all have differing expectations that cannot be assumed to be the same, that accord to our own interests, goals and values.

The antidote to expectations may be cultivating gratitude. I think that there is nothing wrong with magical thinking and prayer as long as we can let go of expectations and find something to be grateful about, even when things do not turn out the way we hoped, so that we can experience peace rather than resentment.

Goodness is mottled and imperfect. If you think that human nature is good and powerful, then you will go around frustrated because the perfect person or society has not yet been achieved. But if you go through life believing that our reason is not that great, our individual skills are not that impressive, and our goodness is mottled, then you might be amazed how life has managed to be as sweet as it is. Learning to accept what is rather than what should be is powerful.

That’s the paradox, which can be sometimes hard to grasp. Only by accepting A are we able to move to B, and only by practising this day by day can we start to experience and understand the freedom in letting go of unrealistic expectations and embracing gratitude and the present. It doesn’t suddenly make the gap between what you have and what you want disappear, but it does allow you to regain your happiness. It also creates space in your head. Space that’s no longer absorbed by negative emotions and hostile thoughts. 

Renowned clinical psychologist, Dr. Ellis strongly encouraged people to stop “musturbating,” and “shoulding” on themselves and others When you learn to let go of your unrealistic expectations, an open road unfolds right in front of you. One full of new possibilities, ready and waiting for you to create your own path. [1]

I do my thing and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,

And you are not in this world to live up to mine.

You are you, and I am I,

and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.

If not, it can’t be helped.

Fritz Perls, “Gestalt Therapy Verbatim,” 1969