Advice From the Trenches

Advice From the Trenches: Not So Great Expectations

Dear C and Dr. B:

When I was a kid I was 100% full of expectation and enthusiasm. Not a bad thing – it really motivated me to get out there and try to do something. But as an adult I find that those same expectations seem to be working against me. Whether it’s my relationship with my wife, dealing with the kids, or my job, things just don’t go the way I expect and I seldom get the results I want.

I know that the Buddhists say the road to happiness is to form no expectations but I can’t distinguish that from depression? I am confused can you help me out here?

Dr. B says:

I read Benjamin Hoff’s book, The Tao of Pooh, ten years ago and it offers some interesting ideas in simple form. I am paraphrasing, but I recollect that it says something like, “be that of like a child.” It does not say “be a child.” The difference is that as a child, everything is about you. As an adult it is not. If you replace expectation with awe, as it suggests in the book, then forming no expectations works toward joy.

The difference is in learning how to look at what is really there and appreciate what it is. Expectations are just about you. Awe is about everyone and everything else. You will find that you also need skills such as listening, appreciation, humility, and mindfulness in order to achieve this. If you do the work, transformation from happy child to happy adult is possible.

As this is not usually a part of our education, few adults understand this and as a result many get depressed or buy sports cars.  If you just let go of your expectations without acquiring the collection of skills listed above, it can certainly cause you to fall into depression or turn to immediate gratification as a diversion in order to cope.

C says:

The various Buddhist sects say many wise things, but you skewed this particular phrase a bit. Expectation itself is not the culprit. Rather, it is the attachment to expectation that causes suffering. If I were you, I would break myself of the habit of making a mountain out of a molehill over your own interpretations of other’s words. Please keep in mind that every blogger on the web and every book on the shelf has ideas, and few of them coincide or make sense together. What does any of it have to do with managing your own life and the problems you encounter with your job and family? Where did you get the idea that you must distinguish some abstract idea from your own depression before you can act? 

No wonder you are confused. I’ll make it easy for you.

First simple law of figuring things out: You don’t know if something works until you try. Apply your approach with intelligence and common sense. If it doesn’t work, try something else. 

It doesn’t sound to me like you have tried very hard.

There is no need to turn this into a big philosophical dilemma. You are having real world problems, they are not in theory. Stop trying to make things more complicated than they are! Save the mental gymnastics for getting drunk and gabbing with your friends. That is where it belongs.

I will repeat this, in case it wasn’t clear the first time: look at what is front of you and see what works. If what you are trying doesn’t work, try something else. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

– Cathren Housley 

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