The secret to happiness is keeping your appreciation high and your expectations low.
—-Misquote of a misquote supposedly attributed to Leslie Cameron-Bandler
Although the pedigree of the above quote is suspect, I consider it to contain the two most important elements of happiness.
Imagine what life would be like if you were satisfied with what you have and If you felt gratitude for every blessing that came your way. This is keeping your appreciation high.
Add to this having low expectations regarding the small stuff in life. Low expectations is the other side to the same coin as high appreciation. Expectation leads to disappointment. If you you don’t expect much, every time you receive something you receive something you didn’t expect, it’s a blessing. Low expectations give you more to be grateful for.
However, having low expectations is not to be confused with cynicism. The cynic expects little because of a negative view of humanity. Cynicism is being disappointed in advance. It is the expectation of disappointment that one mistakes for expecting little.
The expectations of disappointment is so huge, it takes over the cynics life. It becomes an attitude that expresses itself through the cynic’s way of expressing her or himself. Others pick up this attitude and become less cooperative thus fulfilling the prophesy.
Prejudging humanity and expecting little because of a perceived defect in humanity is actually a huge expectation. It causes more suffering than ordinary high expectations do. When expecting humanity to fail them, the cynic never appreciates it when things work out. A good outcome is seen as a fluke. On the other hand, the truly grateful person savors every blessing that comes his or her way.
Another important distinction has to do with the big things in life. When comes to the big things, high expectations are appropriate. One example is the people we chose as our friends. When a friend doesn’t meet our expectations regarding something as important as treating us with respect, the disappointment we feel is entirely appropriate. It is telling us to confront the person in question. Depending on their response, we either forgive them or we end the friendship.
I think the word that best describes a person with high appreciation and truly low expectations for the small things is humble. Have you ever met a humble person? They are often overlooked, but if you look deeply you will see that they some of the happiest people you ever meet.
Do not confuse low self-esteem with humility. They are two different things. People with low self-esteem spend a lot of time think about themselves. The humble are usually right with whatever is taking place. They are pitching in and helping. They don’t call attention to themselves. Being the focus of attention doesn’t get things done. Humility is contentment.
At this point you may be concerned about how one can be ambitious and have low expectations at the same time. You can have low expectations of others and of situations, but you can set the bar high for yourself. However, you don’t want the bar so high that you will fail. Success is achieved by many small steps that build on one another.
One needs commitment to take these steps even when it feels like no progress is being made. One also needs the discernment to choose the steps which lead to your ultimate goal. Working hard is not enough. You need to be working on the right things.
Goals need to be attainable and measurable. Attainable means the bar is low enough that you can achieve it. Measurable means how will you know when have met you goal. Rather than a hard to measure goal, like “be less whiny”, you choose one with a specific outcome, such as I want to go a whole week without someone complaining about me being whiny.
©2016 Stephen L. Martin
Painting: Edgard Farasijn–Human Contentments