A few months ago, my husband Peter and I went to beautiful coastal Montauk, NY for the weekend. On our flight back to Chicago, only 1/2 hour from landing, the captain got on to alert us that we would likely need to be rerouted to Milwaukee due to weather issues at O’Hare airport. My heart sank. What a pain!
I ran through the consequences. We’d need to rent a car or hire a cab to drive us from Milwaukee to O’Hare, where our own car was parked. This would add many hours to our return trip. I’d need to alert our dog sitter of the delay. Could she hold onto Marley until we made it back?
Minutes later, the captain returned with the good news that we’d been given clearance and we would after all be able to land in Chicago. Yay! We were relieved and thrilled.
In a moment, we’d gone from disappointment to joy. Joy beyond what we had actually been feeling on this trip home.
Some neuroscientists have calculated a complex mathematical equation for happiness that says happiness depends on expectations. It’s not about how well things go but about how things go compared to what we expected. Within reason: “While reducing your expectations in the moment increases the likelihood of a positive surprise, chronically belittling your expectations is counterproductive.”
This makes me think about the Danes. For years Denmark has ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world. A lot of that is due to the benefits they enjoy, such as free education and healthcare, low crime rates and a generous social security net, relative prosperity and a strong sense of community. But there’s another element too: They consistently report low expectations for the future.
I was born in Copenhagen of a Danish mother and I recently asked her about this. She heartily agreed, saying, “I never expected the life I have.” And at 87, she has a very nice life indeed, enjoying the spoils of Santa Barbara, California. (Mind you, she lived through the German occupation of Copenhagen and has vivid memories of many fears and deprivations, especially since her father worked for the Danish Resistance.)
For years, I myself have thought expecting the worst was the way to go. Then you can only be happily surprised, right? To be honest, I indulged in a bit of magical thinking too. If I anticipate it, it won’t happen. Problem is, it’s delusional. And it’s a crappy way to live. Already an anxious person, the last thing I need to do is think of all the ways things could go wrong.
So I choose a middle ground. I lean on being realistic but staying hopeful too. And I do believe that as women 40+, we can create a life that is joyful and fulfilled, while honoring our past struggles and plowing through our current challenged. That’s why I love supporting women in midlife and beyond through their journeys, in community, with my membership.
YOUR TURN: What role do expectations play in your life and your happiness? Share in the comments!