Let’s kick off with the latest advance in happiness:
Happiness = Reality – Expectations
If you want to be happy, stop expecting things to turn out the way you want them.
Sounds good. Once the world starts following the arithmetic, we can all live happily ever after. For a while, every time I put out a post on the blog, I told myself to have no expectations. I extended that to a few other things. I did that for a month and had one question at the end of it:
Why am I not a Yangtze river of Happiness already?
The paradox with the equation is that by removing all expectations, you are still expecting to be happy.
That’s not even it. The entire attempt feels phoney. Forget removing expectations, even lowering expectations feels agonizingly unnatural.
If you want to get good at something, it’s going to take time. The more time it takes, the more the effort. The more the effort, the more the expectations.
Experience, effort, and expectations are inextricable infusions in the remedy of life. And art. You can’t remove or lower expectations without negatively affecting effort and experience.
We become better individuals only because we hold each other to higher expectations. That’s the path to adulthood. Not to mention evolution.
In art, much as in life, expectations go unattended. A number of essays I’ve poured excruciating effort into are languishing in obscurity. Disappointing? Yes. Discouraging? Sometimes. Will I stop expecting or just magically lower my expectations? No. Because I expect I can do better. And fulfilling that takes effort.
With that effort comes expectation.
You can’t be happy without also having the gnawing expectation that the very happiness will be taken away from you anytime. You can’t turn down the volume knob on expectations and still expect to hear the music you were dancing to.
To bring back the Math:
Reality = Effort + Experience + Success + Failure + Relationships + Being-there-for-one-another + Being-nasty-with-one-other + Past + Future + Oblivion.
In essence, Reality = Super-Complex. Expectation is an inevitable outcome of this complexity.
To surrender the natural order of expectations in exchange for happiness is a short-sighted idea that has produced some terrible results in the past. See every toxic relationship.
You are going to be disappointed. And you are also going to disappoint people. Much of life is preparation for that. Falling short of your expectation is painful. Falling short of everyone else’s expectation — is inevitable. But this shouldn’t stop you from trying anyway – from putting in the effort.
In art and in life, when you give it your best and your expectations go unmet – real happiness comes from the fact that you tried. If you tried and stopped trying because the world doesn’t fulfill your expectations anymore, whose happiness are we even talking about?
The eternal regret is I wish I tried. Not I wish I were more Happy.
Don’t surrender expectations. Treasure them bravely. Put yourself out in the open, a prey to disappointment. And if you lose, lose on your terms.