How Changing My Expectations Increased My Happiness

How Changing My Expectations Increased My Happiness

“When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have.” – Stephen Hawking

I used to live in a world crowded with expectation.

I had expectations of others, expectations of society, and expectations of myself. Then there were also the expectations others had of me.

Gone are those days! Well almost… let’s just say things have changed drastically.

I describe myself as an optimistic person. I like to be happy, I like to see others happy and I always strive to focus on the brighter side of life. Some might describe that as being a bit of an idealist, but personally I don’t see the point of going through life focusing on the doom and gloom.

So when people share good news with me, I am always happy for them and I always visually or verbally express that happiness for them.

If someone is having a rough time, I’ll always do my best to be empathetic. I’ll look for some practical solutions to help them with their challenges and do my best to cheer them up.

This is my default way of operating in life and so for years I expected other people to be the same. If I achieved something, I expected friends and family to congratulate me. When I was excited about a new opportunity, I expected those closest to me to be excited for me. If I was feeling low, I would expect people in my life to offer me support and empathy. However, as I have grown older, I’ve realised that life doesn’t work that way and that not everyone acts the same way I do.

For years I would feel let down, disappointed and sometimes hurt when someone close to me did not share the joy of my achievements. People I thought would be happy for me expressed little or no reaction to accomplishments that I was proud of. I just didn’t get it. I would think, if the shoe was on the other foot, I would be ecstatic for you, so why do you not feel the same for me?

One day it dawned on me, people have the right to feel and react anyway they choose. If I don’t like it or it upsets me, I too have a choice. I can choose who I share my achievements with. I can choose who I spend my time with and I can choose how I react to their response. In fact, their response is probably not even personal to me.

I have learned that people don’t disappoint you, your expectations of people do.

When you expect something and you don’t get it, of course you are going to feel let down. Expectations set you up for disappointment; however it is human nature to have them. The trick is to avoid becoming attached to your desired outcome.

I now accept that not everyone reacts or behaves in the same way as I do. Instead of investing my energy into working out why they do not appear happy for me, I focus on maintaining my own positive and optimistic outlook on life. Don’t get me wrong, it would still be great if all the people in my life are happy for me when I achieve a meaningful goal, however I no longer expect it of them.

I also recognise how important it is to surround yourself with positive, supportive people. I used to believe those people would be my family and friends, by default, but I now know that is not necessarily the case. Don’t get me wrong, I do have some supportive and encouraging people in my life; however I also had some that were not.

I realise that it is best not to expect a reaction from a person, which is different to their default. Instead, I find that it is better for me to spend more time with people who instinctively express joy for others.

Changing my expectations of others means I can truly enjoy my achievements as I no longer fear a negative response from others.

What expectations do you have that are having a negative effect on your life?

Photo by Gabriel Cabral

Leanne Lindsey

Leanne Lindsey loves inspiring, motivating and empowering women who have had enough of feeling demotivated, fed up and unfulfilled to create a career and life they love. She is a Career and Lifestyle Fulfilment Coach and author of Get A Career & Life You Love, who has experienced redundancy, a complete career change, starting a small business and as a result is enjoying what she calls "the sweetness of life". To receive a FREE guide to creating a happier and more fulfilled career and life, click here or visit her website.

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59 Comments

  1. Good one!!!

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    • This describes me to a capital T!!!!!!!

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    • Leanne after I read this article I feel relief. Because I am the same. I was the same, before realizing that I must change my expectations for other people and surrounded myself only with positive encouraging people.

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  2. Great post! I had someone point out to me that expectations lead to resentments–that began my journey to realizing all that you shared.

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    • Good point Lora. When our expectations are not met, it can be easy for resentment to kick in. Another benefit of giving up our expectations.

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  3. This is a great post Leanne! Expectations can definitely undermine our happiness. In my opinion, expectations are sort of the opposite of gratefulness. With gratefulness we’re happy with whatever we happen to receive, no matter how small or big. And if all we receive is our precious life, shouldn’t that be enough for happiness???

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    • Great response. Gratefulness is opposite of expectations. In expectations, we place ourselves at the mercy of others, we are at the receiving end. If we do not get the desired response, we are likely to be frustrated , we may even harbour negative feelings about the other. In gratefulness, we are giving to others , much like the way sun gives out warm rays in winter or clouds pour out water on the parched plants. This giving is unconditional and in disregard to the acknowledgement or otherwise by the receiver. Gratefulness is also a grace in receiving , big or small help. happiness or even misery. We learn through misery as well. To be grateful to God for life is the best form of prayer. What I make of my life is my problem.

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    • Gratitude can change your attitude. “Oft expectation fails, and most oft where most it promises; and oft it hits where hope is coldest; and despair most sits.” ~William Shakespeare

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  4. Oh wow. This is me. All over. I’ve actually let people go because of the way I perceived their treatment of me during difficult or joyful periods. My expectations are a pointy thing I hold over my own heart.

    Thanks for this. The timing was ace on. I’m starting to make some new friends and some friendships are growing deeper. I need to remember this more than ever before.

    Thank you.

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    • You are more than welcome. I am glad you found it helpful. Giving up expectations definitely gives us access to creating deeper connections with others.

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  5. Awesome post…..you cannot be disappointed if you don’t have any specific expectation – Louise Hay

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    • Well said Louise Hay. Thanks for your comment and for sharing Deepa.

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  6. Miss Leanne Lindsey, you absoultely made my day. Thankyou for that, keep doing what your doing! Your work and desire to help has helped another soul today
    Much love
    - Jakob

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    • Thank you Jacob! I am so pleased I was able to make your day. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement, and thank you for taking the time to read the article and leave your comments. :)

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  7. Thanks Ed. That’s such a good way of looking at it – as the opposite to gratefulness. Not everyone sees life the way we do and we forget we are all the same, just with different views and experiences.

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  8. Thank you for sharing this deeply personal and revealing nature about your personality. Its refreshing :)

    I agree with you. Our expectations of others builds up a false behaviour from others and once we do not get that then we start to question our relationship with them. This is when true communication comes into our expectations of others and by negotiating this we can enhance and explore a deeper relationship with those that we truly care about.

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    • Thanks Robyn, I must admit I was hesitant about being so honest, then I reconnected with the difference I want to make and realised the difference I could make to others through sharing my experience. As you say, true communication allows to enhance and explore a deeper relationship with others.

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  9. Hi Leanne,
    Well said.

    Life gets so much easier and less complicated when we let go of expectations. Also like Ed’s point that expectation is the opposite to gratitude. Letting go of expectations let us accept and appreciate “what is”.

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  10. Hi Leanne,
    I really enjoyed reading this! You wrote about exactly what I’ve been wondering about the last couple days! I think I am a VERY empathic person, to the point of it almost causes trouble because I’m always worried about every little thing other people do or say, almost like I can control it. I’m still always surprised by someone’s bad or rude or uncaring behavior, because I would never be that way, I think ” who does these things”? I then try to change everything I’ve said or done to try and get a response that I “expect” I should get, but it still never happens! What you say about not everyone acts the same way I do is huge!!! I think that is what I get upset about!!! Because I think, well…that’s not how I would respond, so it upsets me!

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  11. Whoops, that got posted before I was finished, sorry!! So I’ll use my Mother as an example. She is constantly (and through ought my whole life) doing and saying things that hurt and upset me. So before I respond in a hurtful way I try to remind myself, I need to give up hope that my Mom will ever be the Mom that I need and want her to be! It’s hard! Sometimes I think it would be so simple if she could just say a certain thing, or act a certain way, but she won’t or can’t!? The only problem I’m having with this giving up expectations of people, is I find myself a little bit empty!? Is that strange? Almost like I’m just ignoring my emotions, becoming detached in a way so that I don’t let things upset me?! Almost seems a bit like being desensitized. Like if you’re exposed to horrible things for long enough you eventually don’t let them bother you or start to see them as normal! Does anyone understand what I mean? I’d love to get some advice or feedback about this!!
    Thanks,
    Char

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    • Hi Char, I’m glad you enjoyed the article and I can totally relate to your experience. As I said in the article, sometimes you can accept people and other times it can be necessary to distance yourself or limit how much you share with some people. It’s by no means easy, and I wouldn’t recommend desensitizing yourself. It’s more about recognising the emotional triggers and transforming your reaction to them. I often remind myself that none of us have a rule book on life and we are just doing the best we can. Our parents just want to keep us safe and sometimes do not have the tools to express that to us in a way that occurs to us as supportive. None of us are perfect and expecting others to behave in a way we feel they should suggests we’ve got it right and they’ve got it wrong. Different things will work for different people, but for me, limiting my time with people who occur to me as negative does not desensitize me but I limit my upset also. I hope that helps.

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  12. Leanne, you hit the nail on the head here. The expectations we seem to have about everything set us up for our way to respond to events in our life. It becomes those stories we say in our heads as we move throughout our day. I like your idea of evaluating & changing expectations of outcomes for being happier. Our expectations do set us up for what meaning we give our circumstances. Yet, we can make a choice to change them anytime, even as we experience disappointment. We can change it just like that. Isn’t it amazing how it is all about us! LOL! That is why others don’t seem to jump right into our shoes, because it is all about them too. Susan

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  13. Well written and timely article for me. I have just learnt this lesson the hard way. I recently had expectation that one of my children was to spend some time with me before she left for overseas. Instead she chose to spend it her father. I now realize that it was my expectations that let me down and is the tipping point for my hurt grief and resentment to rise up. I can practise detachment with love.

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    • Yes, expectations of the ones closest to us can be the hardest to transform. It’s about truly getting that your daughter’s love for you is not determined or measured by who she spends her time with. Once we are aware of our expectations, they don’t necessarily disappear overnight, however we are more able to recognise them when other negative or not-so-nice feelings start to surface. These feelings actually give us the exact opposite of what we wanted from our expectations, ironically.

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  14. LOL! It’s so true Susan, whether we want to admit it or not, we are all self-absorbed in one way or another. I think the thing that made the difference for me is realising that I have a choice. Rather than having a recurring complaint about someone and hoping they would change, I could choose to do, be or act in another way that left me feeling empowered.

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  15. Thank you for this; it encourages me. I am in my jubilee year of life and on a journey to total freedom from expectations from anyone or thing except my Abba. I expect Him to love me and walk with me. And in-turn I will learn to love Him and others unconditionally.

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    • How amazing to be undertaking such a journey. I am really inspired, thank your comment. It is a journey and you are proof that will can all arrive at different times in our lives, it is never too late.

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  16. I think that it is real because we always hope people are just like us, but this don’t occur and we are usually sad, but the expectations aren’t our happiness, this depends on our attitude and our emotional state because ourself do the things and we are happy for this things, and no matter the comments of other people.
    we are happy with what we do because we like to do, and we have decided to change to be happier.

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    • Absolutely. We all have our own journeys and are at different stages of that journey. Therefore we can only pursue what feels right to us without expecting anything from others otherwise our happiness will always be tied to something external to ourselves.

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  17. Great post, Leanne. You have almost let out the secret of happiness. Buddha attributed human suffering to attachment to desires. Perhaps he meant the same. We tether our happiness to positive responses from others. Unfortunately we can not control others’ responses. I must, therefore, learn not to live on expectations, which if unfulfilled inevitable cause disappointment. Living my life well , giving joy to others unmindful of the responses , being grateful for whatever I get in return, takes me on the path of spirituality, which gives its own reward by way of peace of mind and inner bliss.

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    • Yes, Buddhism was one of the sources I learned about attachment and the effect it has on the way we experience life. The key thing as you mention is that we cannot control the responses of others which will always allow the possibility of disappointment if we have expectations.

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  18. Very well written article.
    I completely agree that expectations are the root of unhappiness and frustration. Its an eastern concept but very well applicable to everyone.

    We should learn to accept our current situation and let go any expectation….

    Find out more in detail at: http://gameligit.com/letting-go-attachments-holding-back/

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    • Agreed. It’s definitely something we should all strive to do.

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  19. This was so enlightening, This is in fact my story too, and I have had a similar conclusion, and I am more happy now. I am person like Leanne. I kept wondering for such a long time, that when I am happy for the other person and thts so natural in me, why isnt the other person too. Anyways, Now I even try to preach the same thot to my friends who are often down because someone in there life dint do what they want him/her to.

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  20. Or put another way…”what you think of me is none of my business.” I enjoyed this, Leanne!

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    • Funnily enough Larry, I started writing another article recently and started it “what other people think of you is none of your business”! Thanks for your comment. :)

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  21. It is like you are describing part of my own personal growth in life, a great post Leanne. I never expect anybody to be or do anything because that would be kind of trying to control them to my way of thinking, we are all entitled to be who we want to be. If we are disappointed by someones reaction, it says more about us than it does them. Thanks for sharing Leanne :)

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    • Hey Robert, it’s so true. We want people to accept us as we are, yet we get disappointed when people don’t act or react as we’d like. It’s definitely a transformation in thinking, and when it happens, it’s very liberating. :)

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  22. I just love this article and wish I could memorize it as I so need to remember all these ideas about expectations! Thank You for sharing…..I may need to read it again!

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    • Glad you loved it Patti. Print it out and have it somewhere as a reminder. :)

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  23. This is so great! Love it!

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  24. Enjoyed the post. I agree that we need to surround ourselves with the right people and that some people will disppoint if we expect them to suddenly chnage their spots.

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  25. Hi Leanne. Hope you are doing great.

    I was in the same place a few months ago as you were before. I would expect that people would thank me, or congratulate me, or ping me, and more like that. And when they didn’t I felt low. Even in my WhatsApp group if nobody asks about me I would think “God, if they don’t care, they why am I even talking to these people?” Believe me, I was so selfish & bad. But now, I don’t care if they ask about me or answer my question I posted in the group. I didnt expect that they would answer. If yes, then good. If no, then no problem. I wouldn’t mind. They are my only friends who would help me or whom I would in case of hard times. But, now, I’m very grateful & generous. I help people in whatever way I can. I try to enjoy each and every moment of my life. I’ve changed a lot as compared to what I was a month ago.
    Thanks to you & your article. One line strikes best in your article “I have learned that people don’t disappoint you, your expectations of people do.”

    Thanks a lot.
    Have a great day tomorrow.

    Prajith,
    Nagpur, India.

    Reply
    • Wow. Sounds like you have created a lot of emotional freedom in your life from your realisation. Good for you. :)

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  26. Loved this post, Leanne. Our expectations are usually death traps. I have found that all the big moments in life never turn out the way we expect them to, no matter whether they are happy or sad. I think it’s better to enjoy the ride and focus on the experience instead of expecting how it’s going to turn out.

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    • Hi Joshua,

      I agree with you. I realized that many things happen on the way and not in the way. I just have to choose my response to them and enjoy every moment of it.

      Regards,
      Edmund

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    • Totally, enjoying the ride is the way forward! Too often we attach or delay our happiness to someone else’s reaction and miss out on all the joy that’s available to us in that moment.

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  27. Hi Leanne
    ..your words truly describe how I used to be…I always expected people to be nice to me as I always behaved the same way to them…but as I grown up I’ve realised that people around me are always jealous of whatever lil I’ve achieved in my life like I.used to take English classes at my home n my students really got benefitted with whatever I’ve taught them
    ..but some people at my place discouraged me
    .so as a result I had stop commuting with everyone of them…n now I feel that I’ve pushed myself into solitude n.my self confidence has lost…so could u please suggest me how to get it back?

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    • I would have a think about the type of people you want to connect with. People who share similar interests and values. The thing is people will always have traits that may not be exactly how you would be, but that’s what makes each of us different. It’s for you to work out who you would like to be around and what you are willing to accept. I would also take a look at what was attracting a similar type of person into your life in the past.

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  28. Ah yes, expectations. I’m a therapist and so often see my clients expecting something from the people in their lives and then feeling let down when it doesn’t happen. And oh gee, I find myself doing it too. I recently started a blog (http://yakkityyaktalkingback.com) and without being aware of it was expecting a certain response from my friends. My consciousness continues to get raised. Thanks for your post on this.

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    • Hey Holly, first of all congrats on starting the blog, it looks really good. Funny that despite the work we do as coaches and therapists and “knowing better” we still experience the feeling of disappointment based on our expectations.

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  29. “I can choose who I share my achievements with”… I particularly like this line.
    If we are to remain positive and kind, and not be battling with ourselves, the easiest thing we can do at times is to rid ourselves of the malcontents in our lives – whoever they might be.

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    • It’s not always the easiest thing to do at the time, however it can be long term.

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  30. “I have learned that people don’t disappoint you, your expectations of people do.”

    What a fantastic line!!

    Leanne, thanks for writing this article! It really articulated something that I’ve believed for a long time, but never quite got around to putting into words.

    You are absolutely right about your expectations of people letting your down, not the people themselves.

    Recently, I published my first novel, and when I let people know about it on Facebook, apart from a few of my good friends, there was just a long, pronounced silence! Given that if I were to publish a photograph of somebody at a party everybody would comment and like it, I was shocked and disappointed!!… Until I realised, “Ah, this is Facebook!” My own expectations were completely misaligned, so I set myself up for disappointment!

    After I realised that, it just didn’t even seem like an issue any more, and became something I can laugh about.

    Thanks for writing this article!

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    • Hey Nick, glad you enjoyed the article and congrats on your novel. It’s so true what you say about Facebook. Social media is not always the best place to share news that is important or significant for you and can really lead to disappointment. However if you share it with people who are interested in the genre your book falls into, I’m sure you would have had a completely different response. It’s a great achievement, well done. :)

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      • Thank you, Leanne! And thanks again for writing this great article!

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