Monday, February 23, 2009

Great? Expectations

Today I want to shed a little "lyte" on expectations.  Much of life is about managing expectations.  Studies show that Denmark is the happiest country on earth.  If you visit Denmark, you might expect to see happy, shining faces everywhere you look, but you don't.  For the most part, the Danes are a rather dour lot.  The reason they score so high on happiness scales?  They don't expect a lot.

Our country, on the other hand, is all about great expectations.  Our Declaration of Independence calls it "the pursuit of happiness"; notice that the founding fathers highlighted the pursuit, not the acquisition of happiness, as an inalienable right.  But our citizens, especially in the last 20 years, have felt entitled to happiness.  That happiness is right, like gun ownership, or habeas corpus.    

Happiness is elusive.  I have noticed that if I attach my happiness to an expectation, like when I lose 20 pounds, or arrive in a certain tax bracket, it is rarely as full or as lasting as I had hoped.  Don't get me wrong, good health and financial stability are good goals to have, but attaching your contentment to such goals makes happiness less a pursuit and more a destination.  But you can't stay in happiness.  It moves, it skitters away, laughing and teasing.  
Studies have shown that we have a happiness set point.  Certain events, both good and bad, can raise or lower our happiness level, but a some point we return to our set point.  Kind of like our ideal weight.  But if we expect happiness, do we get it?  If we assume that happiness is a constant, will you be happier or sadder?  

So back to expectations, I think this economic upheaval is causing most of us to reset our expectations.  Right now, I just want my husband to be employed.  I want to keep my house.  My hierarchy of needs have definitely adjusted downward.  Am I sad?  Surprisingly, no.  I find myself taking pleasure in the simplest things, the love of my family, the smell of rain in the desert, being able to pay my bills for another month.  So maybe the Danes are onto something.  You don't have to expect happiness, maybe just settle for it when it comes.        


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