The Well

Good Expectations

by Andrew Shaw on Sep.26, 2010, under Recent Posts

For over thirty years, the nation of Denmark has consistently ranked as one of the most happy places in the world, and the people of Denmark tend to be the most satisfied with their lives.  In trying to understand what makes Danes score so high on satisfaction surveys, researchers have found that it has a lot to do with their level of expectation.  Danes report having lower expectations for the year to come compared to most other nations.  And year after year, they are pleasantly surprised when things went better than expected and they feel more satisfied and happy as a result.

American society tends to overvalue the concept of “more.”  More possessions, more achievement, more success, more expectation.  More expectations for what we should have in life— money, houses, cars, toys, the perfect mate, the perfect body, and so on— fosters excessive desire, which will cause frustration, disappointment and pain, because sooner or later, we will run up against something that we want but can’t have.  We see this too in regards to overexpectation for ourselves and others.  We expect too much from a friend or a loved one and we get upset when they let us down.  Or we berate ourselves when we fail or come up short.  The problem with all this expectation is that it naturally leads to the feeling, “never good-enough.” Never good-enough is a recipe for continuous unhappiness and suffering.

So does this mean we should lower all our expectations, or for that matter, not have any at all? Wouldn’t that stop us from working hard to accomplish our goals or from trying to change things in our life for the better? Ultimately, as with most things, it’s about finding that right middle-point.  If our expectations are too high, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment and unhappiness.  If they are too low, it extinguishes our aspirations, energy and willingness to challenge ourselves and reach our full potential.  It’s important to remind ourselves to maintain this balance; for each of us to reflect on where we fall on the expectation continuum, and adjust our expectations accordingly.  This may very well be another key to happiness… just look at the Danes!

Be Well


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