Great Expectations: How Disappointment Destroys Lives

Do you ever find yourself walking out of a movie theatre, butter-fingered and utterly dismayed? Wincing as you squeeze your foot into a size-too-small pair, the only one left in stock, after mad-dashing it to the shoe store on your lunch break? Hovering over a sunken soufflé after following the directions to a T, with your dinner guests standing on your doorstep, and a heavy feeling in your heart where your pride should be?

Studies show that disappointment is the number one killer of good moods.

Through a tireless exploration of the human experience, conducted by me over the course of 28 years, I’ve reached the conclusion that there are few worse feelings than that of disappointment, and millions of men and woman suffer from Chronic Disappointment (CD) every day.

But good news: There’s a cure! You don’t have to suffer from CD alone, or at all.

What causes disappointment? Why do so many of us see our parades get rained out, proverbially speaking, time and time again?

Expectations. Plain and simple.

Expectations lay dormant in our psyches. We all have them, those prescribed (albeit subtle) laws – ways in which we feel things should be, would be, or can be, if we just plan long enough, try hard enough, or follow the instructions correctly.

I have struggled with expectations my entire life – expectations of myself and of others. If I bust my ass in school, my expectation is that I will have a fruitful career in my desired field. If I bend over backwards to help a friend in need, my expectation is that they will do the same when the chips are down for me. But when my degree isn’t carrying me as far as I’d thought it would, or my friend denies my request for help, I am left to sit in the deafening silence of disappointment.

In this state of frustration, I float into an emotional position of isolation. My mind can take me to dangerous places; I’m stupid. I’m unworthy. I’m a phony. I can’t do anything right. My friends don’t actually like me. And suddenly, the good mood wave I was riding retreats, leaving me with nothing to surf on, stuck in the sand, sometimes for days or weeks at a time.

Planning is a double-edged sword. It can help to avoid catastrophe, but it can also bolster an expectation. I am a planner. My plans have back-up plans, and my back-up plans have back-up plans. But once all of the spreadsheets are done, the routes are laid out in Jiffy pen, and the emergency kits have been stocked, and re-stocked, all I can do – all anyone can do – is leave it to chance and hope for the best.

I look at plans like lottery tickets. Without one, you have no shot at winning the jackpot. But with one, you have only that, a chance. If we all bought our 649s with the expectation of a million dollar pay-off each time, my guess is that most of us would stop buying lottery tickets after a few tries. The disappointment would be too great to endure time and time again.

So how does one remedy disappointment? Try easing up on expectation. Do the best that you can, and then turn it over to the universe, or karma, or God, or whatever it is that you feel comfortable believing in.

Enter every movie theatre with an open mind, being realistic about the cinematic landscape of late. Not every Leo flick is gonna be Titanic. Sprint to the shoe sale because it feels good to get out mid-day, and tell yourself it’ll be a bonus if you return to your desk with a new pair of Nikes. Revel in the possibility of executing a perfect pastry, but keep a tub of sorbet in your freezer, just in case.

Chronic Disappointment is a very real affliction, and in a society where we repeat mantras like “good things come to those who wait,” and “hard work pays off” it’s gaining momentum, killing positivity and self assurance at lightening speeds. If we changed the discussion and instead said things like “good things are possible” and “hard work is gratifying,” we can begin to immunize ourselves against expectation, eventually eradicating disappointment, while still appreciating the Powerball chit in our back pockets. Fingers crossed.

2 Comments

  1. jonathanwhu
    August 6, 2015

    Great (amazing!) article! I learned my lesson when I suffered a concussion and all my plans for the future got derailed. Now, I try not to plan too much and just enjoy the present moment. 😀

  2. jonathanwhu
    August 6, 2015

    Great (amazing!) article! I learned my lesson when I suffered a concussion and all my plans for the future got derailed. Now, I try not to plan too much and just enjoy the present moment. 😀

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