Handling Disappointment

Everyone experiences disappointment. Lots of it.

I started by jotting down some of mine. But it seemed too much like a list of grievances. Like whining. A┬ápity party. So I’ll keep them to myself.

But that doesn’t make them go away. Or stop them from affecting me. To the contrary, disappointments cannot be so easily neutered; in fact, they tend to have quite a bit of power over us.

They skew our thinking. Affect our attitude and mood. Impact our outlook and plans. Define our relationships.

But should they?

Perhaps not. At least not if happiness is the objective. And why would it not be?

I suppose it helps to consider the source of our disappointments. Most if not all of them — at least in my case — stem from the failure of reality to match or exceed my expectations.

So perhaps that’s the root of the problem: my expectations. If I were to have none — expectations, that is — then perhaps I’d never have to experience the sting of disappointment.

But is that even possible? Is it possible to expect nothing of a situation? Or other people? Of ourselves?

I doubt it. Yet I do think it’s possible to manage my expectations better. And, in some cases, to resist the urge to have them in the first place.

Expectations of myself is one thing. Expectations of others is quite a different matter.

I control my own actions (in the main). I do not control others. I am at their mercy.

It’s probably unfair to impose expectations on other people. What gives me that right? As best I can tell, nothing.

And it’s not as if it’s a benign thing either. Expectations and disappointments tend to contaminate relationships. They tend to be the source of conflict. And negative emotions, not the least of which are anger and resentment. Frankly, I think we’d get along better — and be happier — if we had fewer expectations of each other.

But we have to be careful. Ridding ourselves of expectations is not the same as expecting less or expecting nothing, both of which can be toxic in their own right.

Take you for example, Vera. My aim is to expect nothing of you or our relationship. I don’t expect you to go to a particular school or college. Or to pursue a particular career. Or to marry or, even if you do, to marry a particular kind of person or to have kids. Or to visit me. Or even to care about me.

That’s my aim because I’ve come to believe that, in general, expectations get in the way of healthy relationships. And I desire for ours to be healthy. So my attention will be on being the best role model I can be and helping you learn some of the things you’ll need to navigate life successfully (to make wise decisions).

So what, if anything, will replace them — the expectations, that is? Desire. And unconditional love.

I desire nothing but the best for you, whatever that happens to be (which, likely, is beyond my discernment capabilities). And I desire to love you and to be loved. And to be there for you if and when you need me — as you choose.

It means I may have to bite my tongue on occasion. Or to suffer in silence. But it also means I will not contaminate our relationship with expectations I seek to impose on you, even if the motives are pure (or at least as pure as humanly possible, which may not be as pure as we like to think).

But it doesn’t begin or stop with you. My aim is to harness any urge I might otherwise have to impose expectations on any other person. And, perhaps most important of all, on myself.

Self-imposed expectations can be the deadliest of all. They can be the source of much unhappiness and despair. Feelings of failure can pull us into an abyss from which we may not return.

In my later years, I try to expect nothing of life or others. If I am the recipient of good fortune and good relationships (as I am), I want to feel gratitude and nothing more.

Most of all, I don’t want to feel entitled. When things don’t go well, or when things unfold in a way that seems unjust or unfair, I don’t want to feel victimized or self-pity. Or resentful. It’s easier to avoid those self-destructive reactions if I had no expectations in the first place.

But, again, the void created by jettisoning expectations is not filled with nothingness, cynicism or apathy; rather, it is filled with desire, hope and gratitude.

I desire and hope for a better world. I desire and hope to be an agent for good in the world and in the relationships I have with others. I desire and hope for good things to come in the lives of the people whom I love. I desire and hope for happiness. And a sense of gratitude.

Expectations are a hard thing to let go. They seem to want to cling to us like that cellophane that’s so hard to get off your fingers. Yet I’ve come to believe they do us no favors. And are the source of much strife and discontent.

My aim is to expect nothing of the world or its inhabitants. But to desire and hope for much. And, most of all, to be grateful for whatever comes my way.