Great expectations — and why releasing them is the key to happiness

Releasing great expectations NonnettaI’ve been expecting. Expecting my kids to behave perfectly. Expecting my hard work to be praised and rewarded. Expecting my efforts to be noticed. Expecting my blog to be shared and liked and followed. Expecting my friends and family to care about ‘my stuff’ as much as I do.

My great expectations are starting to get the better of me. Because, of course, these expectations are rarely met.

That’s not because my kids are mean, my colleagues are nasty, my blog isn’t liked, or my friends and family are unsupportive. It’s just that when you expect others to act in a certain way, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. They have their own agendas, their own wants, their own expectations. Your expectations are not top of their lists.

Buddhists call this holding on to unrealistic expectations ‘the wanting mind’ or ‘the hungry ghost’. Unfulfilled expectations make for an unhappy life. When your expectations aren’t realised, you feel disappointed, resentful, angry, unsatisfied, unseen.

You become a hungry ghost.

Are your expectations haunting you? Here are five ways to release your expectations and make way for happiness.

1. Be mindful of your expectations

When you catch yourself expecting/wanting from others, or from a situation, stop. Ask why. Are you expecting others to validate your emotions? Have you supported that person in the past and expect them to do the same for you now? If you figure out why you’re expecting, it’s much easier to let the expectation go.

2. Separate your wants from your ‘shoulds’

Do your expectations reflect your true ‘wants’, or are they reflecting ‘shoulds’? Shoulds are expectations imposed by others. Do you expect recognition from others because what you’re doing is a ‘should’ not a ‘want’? Usually, if you’re doing what you really want, not what you feel you should, you won’t have expectations of others because you won’t need their validation or praise.

3. Put yourself in the shoes of others 

Are you perfect? Are you a mind reader? No. Neither are they. Remember that everyone is just doing their best, just like you. And your perfect may be their not-so-perfect. However, If your basic needs aren’t being met by the people you care about and you really feel let down, tell them. If you don’t communicate clearly, resentment will build up on both sides and may explode as anger if left unchecked.

4. Reframe and look for the positive

You expected to be fulfilled and praised at work. You expected your business to do better. You expected your kids to tidy up after themselves. You expected your partner to cook dinner. That’s the negative. What about the good stuff? Maybe your work pays well, which allows you to pursue your real passion. Maybe those business ‘failings’ have taught you how to succeed next time. Maybe your kids are messy but they sleep all night and tell you they love you every day. Maybe your partner had a shitty day and thought take-out might make a nice change. Reframing is a great first step to creating an attitude of gratitude.

5. Take back responsibility for your happiness

When you have great expectations of others, you give responsibility for you own happiness away. But you know no one else can make you happy. Own your actions. Own your emotions. Cheer yourself on. Love yourself more. Be proud of your achievements. Pat yourself on the back.

The solution is simple (not easy, but simple). As Leo Babauta from Zen Habits puts it: “Take your expectations, and throw them in the ocean.”

When you get rid of your great expectations, you free yourself up to enjoy things as they are instead of the way you think they should be. You’ll also make way for a great wave of happiness. Now all you’ve got to do is learn to ride it….

If you enjoyed this blog post, please share it or comment. Even better, sign up to follow Wellbeing bites by email (up on the right if you’re on a computer/iPad, or scroll down to after the posts if you’re on the mobile). No pressure. No expectations. It would just be very lovely. Thank you.

Great expectations image by Nonetta.


    • Thanks Mirna. Although I think now WB might need to do a post on releasing the unrealistic expectations we have of of ourselves… Funny how writing about one thing makes us mindful of another!

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