Want to Be Happy? Leave Your Expectations Behind
Advice from Deepak Chopra
Learn to expect the unexpected and you’re on your way to achieving happiness.
Nothing creates more unhappiness than failed expectations. The job promotion that doesn’t come through, the proposal of marriage that is postponed one more time, the image of an ideal family that nevermaterializes. Expectations are an attempt to control the future. An expectation says, “I won’t be happy unless x happens.” Here we must be careful, however. Having no expectations is a familiar way of saying that life is empty and without hope. That is not the goal. Instead, it’s a kind of openness in which anything can happen and be welcomed.
Recently I had a vivid experience of this. A book tour had taken me to the tenth city in as many days. To survive the grind of traveling from airport to airport and hotel to hotel, I had created a routine. But on this day no part of the routine went well. I got up early to exercise, but the hotel’s gym was closed. I went to breakfast for juice and toast, but, this being a Sunday, all they offered was a lavish brunch buffet. The staff had forgotten to deliver the morning newspaper, and the car that was supposed to take me to where I was speaking came late, forcing us to rush through traffic and keep the entire audience waiting.
Hunched in the back of the car, I wasn’t happy, and I knew why. It wasn’t just an interrupted routine; it was failed expectations. I had posted a mental plan about having a good day, and piece by piece the things I expected didn’t come true. My desires had been blocked. This happens to everyone. Expectations don’t come true, and the result is disappointment. Afterwards I realized that I could have enjoyed my day more if I had approached it without any expectations.
1. I could have been more centered. When you are centered, you aren’t so dependent on your circumstances. The ups and downs of everyday events don’t throw you off.
2. I didn’t need to dictate in advance what a good day would be. One can never see the whole picture. Room needs to be left for the unexpected. In that way, when the unexpected comes, it upsets nothing.
3. I could have let go of outcomes. The only thing any of us can control is our own actions. Outcomes are beyond our control.
4. I could have taken things less personally. Life comes and goes. The universe gives and it takes away.
Nurturing these attitudes in yourself helps you not to build up expectations. I’m not suggesting that you can totally avoid disappointment. Our minds are stocked with images of things that we identify with happiness, and by expecting those things, we expose ourselves to letdowns. Yet we also know that a better sort of happiness exists. Next Christmas, which would make you happier, a gift that comes from a list you wrote, or a gift that comes as a complete surprise? Your soul doesn’t exist to fill a mental list constructed in the past. Its gifts are unexpected. The happiness it brings is fresh because it comes from outside our expectations