Great Expectations and the Decay of Happiness

“Happiness equals reality minus expectations.”

That phrase, which I read in John Mark Comer’s Garden City (although he accredits it to sociologists Manel Baucells and Rakesh Sarim from their book Engineering Happiness), has been rolling around in my mind for a day now.

“Happiness equals reality minus expectations.”

Huh.

When Levi and I were going through pre-marital counseling, there was a whole chapter on expectations. Our homework was to write down twenty expectations we had for our marriage in addition to ten expectations we imagined each other to have. We were then meant to share, compare, and otherwise work through our delusions.

I suppose the point of the exercise was to save us from future unhappiness (see happiness equation above), but concocting that many expectations for the sake of comparison felt like a sure way to guarantee my unhappiness in the moment. I managed to come up with a whole eight expectations before I called it quits.

I know it’s still early, but despite flunking marriage counseling, we are blissfully, deliriously happy. I’ve either kept my expectations simple, or I learned to shape them around the person I know Levi to be rather than a “perfect” ideal I might conjure. (Because let’s face it, in a perfect world, my husband would cook and clean and somehow still manage to make enough money that I’m not holding my breath when I tally up our expenses each month.)

But it works. My expectations do not outweigh my reality. I’m truly happy with the simple life we’ve chosen to pursue.

When I look at the world around me, it is obvious that most people cannot say the same. There is an epidemic of discontent sweeping through the nation. Despite the overwhelming amount of privilege to be found in America, we are desperately grasping for more.

And I wonder if these people will be happy when they “arrive” or if their expectations will have left them empty. Will they ever be content with enough when there is always more to be had for the taking?

Would I be happy just to sell a novel if I’m fantasizing about it landing on the New York Times Bestseller List? Would I be delighted by a simple review from a reader if I was hoping to be critically acclaimed?

It’s worth pondering. Is it possible that our great expectations are sabotaging our ability to be happy?

There is a lot of tension in America right now, everyone constantly refreshing their phones to see if the votes have been counted. The next four years of political decisions hinge on the outcome… but your happiness doesn’t have to.

People will tell me that is a privileged point of view. But is it? Is it a privilege to be happy despite the state of the political world or is it simply a choice? A choice to choose hope instead of despair. A choice to choose love over hate.

I am a firm believer that your mindset shapes your reality. That’s why the placebo effect works. Belief has the power to heal and uplift, but it likewise has the power to drown and destroy. So really, you can’t afford to walk into the day with anything other than a positive outlook. Your literal health depends on it.

Politics take place in government circles, but happiness… that starts here. With you. With me. With the choices we make daily.

And stuff like that? Hope and love and joy and peace… it’s contagious. That is what is going to change the world. Not a couple of guys sitting at a desk in their big, white house.

We have ascribed too much worth to outward circumstances. We have given too much power to politicians. It is time to take back our lives. To reshape our expectations and the disillusionment that comes with them. It’s time to extend a little grace—we’re all only human after all. It’s time to choose to be happy, despite the media telling us that we should despair.

At this point, there is nothing you can do about the election. You did your part, but now it is out of your hands. You can, however, elect for love to reign over hatred in your heart.

I know I want to live in a world where love wins. I hope you’ll choose to create that world with me.

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