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Unrealistic Expectations: The Soil That Sows Unhappiness
Consider the following comparison:
Situation A: You want a greasy, cheap, drunk-food style pizza. It’s a dollar a slice and it’s not very good, but you enjoy it because it’s exactly what you wanted.
Situation B: You want a gourmet style pizza and you’re willing to pay the premium price for it, say fifteen dollars. You are so excited for your premium pizza, but as you bite in to it, expecting heaven, you find it only marginally better than the one dollar pizza. You are disappointed at best, angry and demanding a refund at worst.
In situation 2 the pizza is unarguably more delicious that the first pizza. Yet for some reason you thoroughly enjoyed the first one and were thoroughly disappointed by the second.
Let’s try another one.
Situation A: 30 years ago, computers cost ten times more for one tenth the power. They were hard to use, and had many issues. Almost no one used them to be more efficient or productive with work, business or school. And everyone was fine with this.
Situation B: Today computers are unbelievably quick and cheap. We have more processing power in our pockets than the entirety of the Apollo moon missions. They make us hundreds of times more efficient. Yet, if your computer crashes, its the end of the world.
When your computer crashes you’re still capable of being ten times more effective and efficient than you were before the computer era, yet you find computerlessness utterly unbearable.
Consider this last comparison about two different men.
Man A: Your parents were extremely poor. Your father struggled to make ends meat to afford your family. He had an alcohol problem, and his brother died when he was young. As a result, you have built yourself in to having a well paying job. You have a car. You have a house. You have a family that is healthy and loves you. By every metric you compare yourself to, you are a successful and hardworking person.
Man B: You run a multi-million dollar business that is the best in the state. You have more money, influence, and success than anyone you’ve ever met. But the only people you see as worthy of existence are massive world changers like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos. You feel constantly inadequate; that you don’t work hard enough; that you are a loser.
Man B is, in just about every single metric he could come up with, more successful, more influential, and more impactful than Man A. And yet he is miserable while Man A is content.
The answer, as you may have deduced already, is a simply that when our expectations are met, we are satisfied; when they aren’t, we are aren’t.
But expectations are malleable. Relative. Subjective. The range of awesomeness to lameness is more or less infinite and thus seeing anything completely objectively is not possible. It all requires a reference point. A frame. Something else on the spectrum to compare it to.
So what does this mean for you?
It means that most of your suffering is a byproduct of expecting things to be much better than they are or are capable of being. And further, that be modifying key expectations in your life you can massively improve your enjoyment of it (as well as be more motivated and productive).