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Expectation and reality: what happens when they’re out of alignment

expectation and reality
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

The last time I felt unhappy I took a moment to consider why. What happened to create this feeling of disappointment? I realized my expectation and reality had become misaligned.

I had envisioned a certain outcome for a specific event. I’d decided in my mind that things would go one way, but they went another. When things went differently than I had anticipated, my mood dipped.

Sometimes it can feel like we have a whole life where expectation and reality have failed to meet. What makes us unhappy is less the quality of the life or event itself, but how it fails to live up to our expectations.

What makes us unhappy is less the quality of the life or event itself, but how it fails to live up to our expectations. Click To Tweet

For example, I can feel content staying in and reading a book on a Friday night. In fact, those have been among my most joyful times. But if I had planned a night out that got cancelled and forced me to stay home, that night in became less joyful.

What other ways does this gap between expectation and reality play out in our lives?

Relationships

Romantic movies have led us to believe that true love should feel exciting and earth-shattering in perpetuity. So when passion fades after a few years, people feel let down.

We’re taught to believe another person will complete us and fulfill our every need. We’re not equipped to deal with the inevitable conflicts that arise. Or that past traumas play out in present relationships, giving us the opportunity to resolve them.

If you grew up in an emotionally avoidant home, you may fear that a fight is the end of the world, or the relationship. You thought this person would rescue you from your past, not give you more of it.

If you grew up in an emotionally avoidant home, you may fear that a fight is the end of the world, or the relationship. Click To Tweet

We become unhappy in the relationship because it’s not living up to our expectation of peace and harmony, or excitement and grandiosity.

If we have a more realistic assumption that relationships challenge and help us grow, we’ll experience more happiness in them.

Work

You may have what others consider an impressive career, but if it’s not what you’d envisioned yourself doing, you’ll be unhappy.

I’ve had some wonderful roles working for incredible bosses. But I’d seen myself as a writer since childhood, so no other job fulfilled me.

That’s why gratitude lists fare poorly as a tool to increase happiness. Evidence shows writing a weekly rather than a daily list of thankfulness works better to increase joy.

Evidence shows writing a weekly rather than a daily gratitude list works better to increase joy. Click To Tweet

Many things in life are worthy of thanks and gratitude. However, when expectation and reality don’t meet, we’re lying to ourselves when we say we like it. And that prevents needed change.

What’s an example from your life in which expectations exceeded reality?

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