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The Case for Lowering Your Expectations (outsideonline.com)
72 points by hprotagonist on Feb 13, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments

Happiness = reality - expectations

Remember that formula and you will be fine.

It's not a case for lowering your expectations, but it does set a framework for approaching different endeavours. It forces you to ask the question, if this goes amazingly well, how good is that really? Furthermore, it forces you to ask whether you are putting too much energy into your expectations. Finally, it's why slot machines (based on unexpected and uneven payouts) work so well. :)

While I don’t disagree with the thrust of your argument, the equation would seem to imply that happiness + expectations = reality and unfortunately I don’t think it quite works that way?

OK, I’ll bite. It does seem to match my observations that if your expectations are excessively high vs. reality then your happiness will be low. And, I have observed that people in truely... difficult(?) situations (living in North Korea/South African slums) are often still happy because what they hope for are the basics of survival, friendship and family.

I think there have been a number of studies showing that poverty does directly make people unhappy, though - or at the very least, happiness is definitely correlated with wealth. Being poor is extremely stressful. Being stressed is not necessarily going to make you unhappy, but it's certainly likely to.

There are numerous studies showing that people with basic need expectations are stressed but not depressed, while people who don't struggle about fulfilling basic needs, but have high luxury and social expectations are more depressed. Same thing has been shown at a the societal level in term of suicide levels.

Basically, the level of stress in a population or experienced by an individual has little to no correlation with happiness. The type of stress, especially the more insidious one, is probably more important.

Then, I'll add that it's all about your expectation. If we hope to put food on the table everyday, and we succeed most of the time, we will be proud and happy most of the time. If we expect to strike millions by being an entrepreneur, because we all know that we're nobody if we're not an entrepreneur, we will endure a roller-coaster of deception and small victories, with no quantifiable bearing on our success or lack thereof...

OK, maybe that should be

"let Happiness = reality - expectations"

I think he’s saying that high expectations cause sadness which would cancel out the expectations and give you reality.

But it’s obviously an oversimplification

I understand it as -- if you can influence reality to meet your expectations, great, that leads to happiness, otherwise work on your expectations.

If "reality" means competing against other smart/driven humans, be prepared to lower your expectations.

That formula works well if you think you have a thousand serious moves to make [1].

I would say, come to know this and you will be fine: Happiness = your natural state

[1]: https://www.rootsnwings.in/pdf/15TrippingOverJoyMay05.pdf

Thank you

I like the overall idea of this equation, but IMO it seems to not hold for some cases. Think about some cases when reality is far lower than expectations or reality is very close to expectations but still lower than expectations. According to this equation, you will be very unhappy for the former case and less unhappy for the latter case, but I think this doesn't hold.

For example, in the winter olympics, there was a world class ski player that had been a champion for the world cups but not an olympic medalist. She already had been in positions like 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th and she just wanted nothing but a medal. In the Vancouver olympics, she went to the final round and was very close to winning a bronze medal, but finished in 4th place. She bursted into tears and clearly seemed very unhappy in the interview.

In the opposite case, if reality is far lower than expectations, like you couldn't even pass the qualification round, you can think that like an accident. I have seen this in the PyeongChang olympics that some good players not even passing the qualification round because of the windy weather. They clearly looked unhappy, but not bursting into tears, because blaming the wind will relax their unhappiness.

it sounds quite like some (admittedly oversimplified) views of Buddhism and alike : that is be in the present. When you are in the reality 100%, then your expectations are 0%, and the equation holds :-)

Sometimes living in the future can serve you though. People who look forward to something on occasion report being happier overall than people who have nothing to look forward to. As long as that doesn't prevent you from taking action in the present, why not?

Many well known Buddhists talk about not being dogmatic in the face of your mental activity, but merely taking a step back and asking yourself: Does this serve me?

Some people shoot for doing great things, instead of personal happiness. It is unlikely that they hit their highest goals and are likely to be less happy than most, but I'm glad a decent number of people go this route in life. I quite enjoy their great endeavors and think humanity is net positive for their efforts.

I think it's true that lowering your expectations will increase your happiness. But it will also decrease progress in the world. Happiness isn't the only thing one can strife for and not everybody should.

What's progress, if not an increase of happiness?

Even if we take it to be aggregate happiness to be progress, it can make a lot of sense to sacrifice one's own happiness to gain more happiness for others.

We could measure a decrease in the happiness of a suddenly very driven and successful engineer alongside the increase in their income, take that surplus income, and then convert it into happiness for others by way of purchasing critical medicines for impoverished people.

Summed up, it's possible for it to be good for certain people to decrease their own happiness to increase their outputted value, and then leverage that increase in value to provide much more happiness for many more than 1 other.

Depending on how one defines the "objective function" for progress more or less anything we want (or don't want) can be rationalised

One perspective might be defining progress to be maximising the expected long-term survival (that is, non-extinction) of our species. This framework could justify any amount of suffering of individuals - what's good for the population isn't necessarily good for individuals, and vice versa. https://nickbostrom.com/existential/risks.html

If happiness is subjective, perhaps some individuals are naturally capable of greater levels of happiness than others -- https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/2012-04-03

Another perspective might be to get a bit carried away with using accounting heuristics when trading off happiness now versus happiness in the future, and decide that a 4% annual happiness discount rate makes sense, so 100 units of happiness now is better than 2 units of happiness in 100 years time (this kind of valuation might be consistent with the human endeavour's response to the threat of climate change).

> it can make a lot of sense to sacrifice one's own happiness to gain more happiness for others.

If what you're doing would potentially create more "happiness," or "positive outcome" for others.

But most of what most of anyone does has no significant or lasting impact. "Merely satisfactory" gets the truck to the dock on time, the Uber customer picked up and delivered, or the HN post replied to.

Aiming at excellence is great, but in most cases pushing toward excellence at all personal cost, successful or not, doesn't really move the needle.

Take care of yourself first, unless you're an extraordinary individual in extraordinary circumstances.

Most of "this" just doesn't matter.

“Happiness means nothing to me. I just want to have meaning and purpose.” - Jon Krakauer

I feel this contradicts with the ideas about Positive Thinking and Law of Attraction.


Many successful people use positive thinking to help them succeed in challenging situations. If you lower your expectation, then you will never become successful.

I think having expectation oftentimes create psychological disorders what Logotherapy identifies as anticipatory anxiety and hyper-intention...

I think key is to actually NOT to have expectation. Expectation are result focused. What's important is to be process focused. And process is more about thinking positively on each step. Or better yet... use Paradoxical intention to face our worst fears.

Perhaps, "The case for realistic expectations"? Not give up and lower your sights, just accept that expecting the impossible doesn't make it possible.

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