Expectations


I was talking to a friend the other day and she expressed that she was very disappointed that another friend had let her down. This friend had treated her with a fair amount of disrespect. I asked her why she was so disappointed in that and she replied that she expects people to treat others with respect. She treats others with respect and she expects them to do the same. That got me thinking about expectations. Why do we have expectations? Why do we expect certain things to happen, or to be a certain way? It’s an interesting concept that many of us have probably given little thought to. When I started thinking about it, a whole host of things came to light that I think are interesting. Maybe you will too.

The question of expectations brings up the issue of control. We have almost no control over anything that happens. And that’s a problem for a lot of people. People like control. They like their day to go a certain way. They like their children to behave, they like their jobs and their homes and environment to go in the way they expect things to go. They don’t like it when things get “out of control.” One of the big reasons we are disappointed is because things didn’t go the way we wanted them to. And that takes us back to expectations. We are disappointed because our expectations are not met.

If I ask a friend for help and they say no, I find that I’m disappointed. I think my friend should help me. I’ve helped him quite a few times after all, why won’t he help me when I need it? And then I blame my friend for my disappointment, when the truth is, my disappointment is my own fault. It’s my fault because I had an expectation that wasn’t met. There are many reasons why my friend might not help me when I ask. There’s at least a 50% chance at any given time that someone will not meet your expectations. Depending on a lot of variables, like how their day is going, what kind of mood they’re in, etc. So anytime you want something, if you have an expectation that that want will be met, you’re setting yourself up for a pretty fair chance that you’ll be disappointed. And this takes us back to control. We want things under our control, and we don’t like it when they’re not. So what can be done about that?

If we don’t have expectations, we will find that there’s a lot less disappointment in our lives. How can you do that? You have to give up the notion of control. And that can be hard. You have to make yourself understand that the only things you can control are the things you think, do, or say. Without force, you cannot control anything anyone else does. So when you expect something to go a certain way and it doesn’t, you have to realize that you had no way of controlling that situation. And because you couldn’t control it, having an expectation of the results just sets you up for disappointment. So can my friend really blame her other friend for the way she was treated? Or should she realize that she had an unrealistic expectation of how that situation should have went? Keeping in mind that this is not a license for people to be shitty human beings and blame others for expecting them not to be.

Should you be able to expect others to treat you with respect? In a perfect world, yes you should. But we don’t live in a perfect world. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t want people to treat us well. But if we don’t have the expectation that they will or they won’t, when they don’t, we won’t be disappointed. Controlling our own minds is something we can do. We can control how we think. We can decide not to have expectations about how things should go, giving up the illusion of control. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a situation to go a certain way, but when we expect it to go our way and it doesn’t, that’s when we run into trouble. Controlling our own thoughts, our own desires, is the only way we can control the amount of disappointment we suffer. And that’s a good goal, isn’t it? To be less disappointed makes room for more happiness.

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Another Year

candleEvery once in a while I fall into the trap of reflecting on my life. This usually happens at the end of the year. The Gregorian calendar, the calendar which most of the world uses, says that today is the last day of 2015. Named after Pope Gregory XIII and introduced in 1582, the Gregorian calendar was a “fix” of the Julian calendar, named after Julius Caesar to add 0.002% to the year to keep Easter at relatively the same time every year. The year end is just a date however, and one would think that a better time to start a new year would be to coincide it with the beginning of a new season, like Summer perhaps. But I wasn’t in on the making of the calendar so my ideas don’t count. Anyway, reflecting on your life is something uniquely human. My dog Sophie, couldn’t give a hoot what happened yesterday, or last week for that matter. The only thing that matters to her is what’s happening right now. Which, if I was following the Buddhist teachings I’ve learned, should be all that matters to me. Ah well, no one is perfect.

It is amazing to think about how things change. Falling back on Buddhist teachings I find that everything changes. The human body has somewhere between 50 to 75 million cells which are dying and being replaced all the time. So technically, you are not the same person you were yesterday. Everything changes, all the time. Especially feelings, thoughts, likes and dislikes. We are not the same people we were when we were 20 years old as we are today. When I was twenty I would be preparing for a night of drunken partying on December 31st. Today I am lounging around my house in sweat pants and thinking about getting pizza for dinner. Woo Hoo! And I want to make sure I get back home before the crazies go out drinking and partying. Hey wait, that was me once!

I know for a fact that I have done and said a lot of crazy things over the years. I don’t regret any of it because it has all come together to make me who I am and I kind of like who I am. There’s always room for improvement however, but I seem to be doing alright. Would I change some things if I could. Undoubtedly. For like everyone else I know, I have made mistakes. I’m not going to list them here because I don’t dwell on past mistakes. What happened, happened and there’s no going back. There is only today, and so far today has been pretty good. Buddhism embraces reincarnation and the idea that what you do in this life affects how your next life will be. I’m not so sure about that because I’ve seen no evidence of past lives that I may have lived. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try my best to live a good life however because I do believe in the saying, “What goes around comes around.” I think if your life is filled with hate and fear, that’s what you’ll see and experience. If you are a good, decent and happy person, that’s what you’ll see and experience.

So generally for me, reflecting on my life is not unpleasant. I have lived and loved, laughed and cried. I have gained and lost and gained again. Many people have passed through my life. Some of them are still with me and some are gone. I know what happened to some and wonder what happened to others. I’m sure that what I’m describing is typical for most people but I like to think about it. I’m not living in the past, just remembering what was and wondering at how it has changed. Life really is amazing. There have been times when I didn’t have enough to eat, and times when I didn’t have my own place to live. I’ve slept on peoples sofas, and went through a day eating only a can of soup. And then there have been times of plenty. I’ve never been in a war or had my life threatened. The people in Palestine and Somalia live lives I couldn’t imagine and I’m grateful that I haven’t. But I do my best to bring awareness of these things to others like myself who don’t really have a clue.

So on this last day of the year I am sending out good thoughts and blessings to all the world. (Why limit myself?) I hope that everyone thinks about the good and bad things that have happened and I hope that the good has outweighed the bad. Please remember those whose lives are not as good as they could be and do something (even if it’s just writing about it) to help make a change for the better. Peace.
Mr bean