Happiness is altering your expectations. Better yet, happiness is having no expectations at all.
From a young age, I’ve been practicing the “don’t get your hopes up” way of life. It may seem like a negative way to live, but I think of it as realistic and smart, because few things in life lie completely within our own personal control and it’s always nicer to be surprised by good news than bad, or even no news at all.
And having no expectations is actually pretty easy… if you live alone under a rock, and are completely content with living alone under a rock. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: things get hard when the comparison game comes into play, when we see what others have and want it too, when we don’t want to be jealous of the Joneses but how can we not be when they display all the achievements of all their ridiculously high expectations literally right under our noses via social media like: beautiful house by age 21, start decorating with the most stylish and high-end furnishings immediately–check. Travel to five continents by 22–check. Complete PHD by 23, marry most gorgeous of spousal specimens that same year–check. Have amazing career with amazing salary, pay off mortgage by age 24–check. Have perfect, great-sleeping baby at 25, plenty of loved ones around to help take care of baby but still be a super-devoted parent, continue awesome career, exotic travels, write and publish best-selling novel, begin successful modeling side career on a whim–check, check, check, and check.
We all know someone like this, right? Or perhaps this is just the way they appear to us, based upon the culmination of all the good personal news they’ve chosen to share with the world, and perhaps the fact that many of the checks off their lists happen to be the very things we haven’t even yet written down on our own lists because they still seem like such far-off-in-the-future achievements. Everything seems so easy for them. Why can’t it be easy for me too? Happiness is always within their reach but just out of mine. They have everything I want but don’t have, even though I deserve it as much if not more than them… why is that? Why them and not me?
Whenever I find myself thinking this way, here’s how I handle it:
First of all, while we may seem to deserve certain things based on our hard work, years in school, admirable qualities, or past struggles, none of us are actually entitled to anything. Certainly not just because our same-aged friend already owns a home therefore we should already own a home too. Or because our friend three years younger than us is already married with two kids therefore we should already have at least two kids or at least one kid or at least be married. Or because our friend who finished school to be a doctor at the same time as us already has a thriving practice therefore we should already have a thriving practice too.
Isn’t that how it usually goes when we find ourselves wondering why we can never seem to keep up with so-and-so? I at least never seem to feel too jealous of friends 5 or 10 years older than me, because it’s easy to believe/wish/hope/pretend that in 5 or 10 years of course my life will look just like theirs. But when it’s friends my age or in a similar stage of life… that’s when it gets hard not to view them all as Joneses.
But similar age or stage of life does not make us all the same. We all face different challenges and fight different battles in life, so doesn’t it make sense that our good fortunes and blessings would be different as well? Whether you believe in God, a next life, the universe, karma, or chance, I find it impossible to believe that any person can get through this life scot-free, without having to endure a number of personal challenges, however they may come.
Your friend may have the nice new house you don’t have, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t trade it for the happy, loving marriage and home-life you do have. Your friend may have the husband and kids you don’t have, but it doesn’t mean they don’t struggle every day with feelings and the resulting guilt that they missed their opportunity to begin a successful career, travel, and/or have the social life that you do have. Your friend may have the thriving career you don’t have, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t give it up to have a loving and close relationship with a still-living mom that you do have. And maybe you have a friend who truly hasn’t yet faced a single large difficulty in life, but just to give some perspective without wishing anything bad on anyone, perhaps they’ll be forced to battle a terminal illness a few years down the road or face the heart-breaking death of a child.
These are random examples from my own imagination given with no intent to jinx anyone, but the point I wish to make is this: I truly believe we all have our own easy breezy, smooth-sailing facets of life as well as our own rocky, tumultuous, how-will-I-ever-come-out-on-the-other-side facets of life. I read a quote by Regina Brett a while back and it’s stuck with me: “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.” I believe there’s a lot of truth in that. Of course, if we all threw our blessings in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d probably want to pick and choose amongst all of them. But that’s just not fair and that’s not how life works.
So I’m telling myself right now: Stacey, stop trying to gyp everyone else of their blessings and good fortunes if you’re not willing to gyp them of their problems too. Stop being jealous of the achievements others have made in life when you honestly don’t know the hurdles they’ve had to overcome. Stop believing everyone else has it easier than you, making yourself out to be some sort of victim who deserves to be sad and mopey, discrediting them of all the struggles they have and will endure. There are too many people in the world and too many possible problems to really believe you’ve been dealt more than most, while so-and-so is getting through life without a care. So suck it up and be happy. Be happy for yourself and the blessings you do have, the challenges you have and will overcome, and the problems you will never have to face, and be happy for the so-called Joneses.
Because happiness is having no expectations. Okay, actually, that’s not true… Happiness is having realistic expectations based upon what you can personally feasibly achieve in your individual life according to the blessings and challenges you’ve currently been dealt. Happiness is not formulating expectations for your life based upon what awesome, enviable things the people around you have achieved. Happiness is finding joy exactly where you are right now, and finding it again every day for the rest of your changing life. Happiness changes. Happiness is altering your expectations.