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Managing Expectations for Greater Happiness

by Beth on December 15th, 2023

Have you ever heard the saying “happiness equals reality minus expectations”? It is true that expectations have a significant impact on our happiness. We are happier when reality is aligned with or slightly better than what we expected.

Denmark consistently ranks as the happiest country in the world. Researchers were curious as to why Danes are happier than people living in Sweden and Finland, countries that are similar to Denmark in many ways. They conducted a study comparing the countries and found that the biggest difference was that Danes have much lower expectations. Unrealistically high expectations, from parents and social media, may be contributing to the unhappiness younger generations are experiencing these days.

As we approach the holidays, trying to set realistic expectations can help us avoid disappointment. What are some of the expectations you have regarding gifts, food, relaxing, or everyone getting along? How likely is it that those expectations come true? Adjusting what you hope for so that it is more realistic can bring you greater joy over the holidays.

There is a caveat here, however. Realistic expectations are important for happiness, but so is anticipation. The excitement and positive emotions experienced while looking forward to something can add more joy to your life. Thinking about the upcoming holidays can boost your current happiness.

So what should you do? I think the best way to approach things is to make plans that you look forward to and to anticipate the joy you think those plans will bring. Yet try not to have specific expectations. You can anticipate the positive emotions you hope to feel, while avoiding imagining exactly how things will go.

I am very much looking forward to the holidays. I anticipate that having some time off and celebrating with my family will be wonderful. I expect to experience joyful moments together, to eat some delicious meals, and to make some happy memories. But realistically, I don’t expect everything will go according to plan. I will manage my expectations so that I won’t be too disappointed if our flight is delayed, or the weather is bad, or some of the meals aren’t that great. It won’t all be perfect, but there will be many moments of joy and looking forward to them puts a smile on my face!

From → Mindset, Well-being

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