How To Manage Your Expectations So You Find Happiness In Life

Lauren Naefe

Reality came crashing down hard and fast.

I walked out of school with a diploma in hand, ready to assimilate into the real world.

But no one was handing me that dream job on a platter. I was living in my parents basement barely making minimum wage. I was 25 working at Forever 21. The irony was painful.

I discovered, in a brutal way, I wasn't that special person my parents told me I was — bless their hearts — I was just another ordinary 20-something holding an expensive piece of paper.

I was literally told by a recruiter candidates like me are "a dime a dozen.” It was a humbling experience, but needless to say, it hit hard.

My expectation of the real world was so misaligned with the reality that I was facing that I slipped into a mild depression.

Several months passed before adjusting to the fact that I wasn't going to be sitting with my feet up at a fancy new job anytime soon.

Once I became accustomed to this new normal and talking to people experiencing the same struggle, things started to brighten up.

I didn't feel bogged down by my skewed projection of the future. Most importantly, I started to enjoy my modest job folding t-shirts for prepubescent teens.

Throughout this experience, I learned expectations can have the ability to hold an incredible amount of power over our happiness — emphasis on the word “can." They have the ability to, but we should never let them.

I like to think of expectations as a container — a type of box that we build in our mind.

There's a box for your future husband, your new promotion at work and your next vacation.

They are are all different sizes, textures and colors. Some boxes are opened, others you just starting to peep into and some are currently under construction.

Throughout this experience I learned expectations can have the ability to hold an incredible amount of power over our happiness — emphasis on the word “can."

When the time comes to open these boxes, the inside often turns out very differently from the external packaging we've created and envisioned, which naturally leads to initial confusion and disappointment.

The prettier and shinier the packaging, the bigger the drop.

Many cynical people are quick to scoff and say something like, “The key to happiness is not to have any expectations, this way you'll never be let down.”

I cringe and roll my eyes so deep into the back of my head when I hear overly simplistic and idealistic solutions like this.

We are not machines that can just switch off the expectation feature. As humans, building boxes is what our minds are by designed to do by default.

From the moment you're born, with every movie you've watched and story you've heard, your mind is passively buzzing and stacking up those walls.

We will never be free of expectations, but what you can do is be active.

Grab that box, scratch your chin and start to pick it apart. Scrutinize every surface, ridge and corner of that container.

When you zoom in closely, you will discover this box is not built from your own authentic unique needs. It's designed by television, media, pop culture, your Instagram and Facebook feeds. Why do you think the packaging looks so damn good?

In our appearance and status-driven culture that is incessantly pushing glorified images of life in our face, it's easy to slip into unconsciously building ourselves a fantasy land. Expectations become dangerous when they tip over into fantasy.

This is where the problem lies. We should set expectations based on our genuine desires and needs, not because someone told us that we should have these needs.

The result of fantasy expectations is we stew in confusion and frustration when — big surprise — our experiences don't measure up to these shiny models.

If you're a romantic and a dreamer like me, it's normal for present-day thoughts to wander into a glossy rainbow-filled future — where your perfectly-chiseled boyfriend is the sweetest guy on earth and sends you beautifully-crafted goodnight texts every day, or that new promotion you've been waiting for is handed to you.

It ain't gonna happen.

Expectations become dangerous when they tip over into fantasy.

The realization that expectations are malleable is what has rendered them powerless to me.

Those fluffy mental bubbles of the future are just that — fairytales. Just like any fairytale, it's an imaginary place where you can temporarily escape to by closing your eyes for a micro vacation.

Whether we're talking romance, career or personal goals, the key is to be honest about our nature and realize we can never fully get rid of expectations.

But we have the power to question them, which gives an invaluable sense of control, ultimately diffusing the natural tension that arises when reality does not neatly align with expectations.

Keep the actual boxes in check and you will rarely be disappointed.