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Therese Bogan, MFT

How can we have our dreams, plans and goals without expectations? We have to set our sites and expect good outcomes, or our failure will be in not trying hard enough. This is a common mindset. So then, why does happiness slip through our fingers?
by, Therese Bogan, MFT

“Oft expectation fails, and most oft where most it promises; and oft it hits where hope is coldest; and despair most sits”
William Shakespeare
Happiness, love, hope and other flighty or flirty states are hard to pin down. Nevertheless, we strive to find these states in our daily lives by making predictions and laying value on particular behavior, people, places and things. That type of phone is going to make me happy. That type of personality in my partner will make a good partner and I will be happy with my marriage in 20 years. This job will give my career value and that will make me happy. These are the arrows we shoot into the future and then search through the forest to find. And, if we don’t hit the mark, in comparison to our friends and family that have gone before, our happiness is gone.
Dart in the future
So then, what gets in the way? Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert says our beliefs about what will make us happy are often poor predictions or comparisons. His recent book, Stumbling on Happiness, gives us a funny and accurate view of our behavioral pitfalls, when predicting our own happiness. I see these factors like predictive odds, comparisons, and value estimates as building blocks for the foundation of our perception. Your mind works with what you give to it and then creates a perceptive reality that fits your original building material. If you have false beliefs about yourself, your capabilities, your dynamic potential in life ~ then you will play the odds to the Lie about you ~ not the shared reality of you.
An example: A man is a Harvard graduate and there are certain statistical odds that predict his financial success. If he comes from a history that tells him to expect failure, betrayal, disloyalty in the public, and low social status then his perception of the odds may be based on the belief instilled in him, rather than statistics. Instead of being able to remove himself from the perceptions of his original starting point, he walks into a new set of potential outcomes while living in past beliefs, values, comparisons.
He could be a man from Bosnia, who grew up in foster care and an educational system that create the same access to the predictive path of other successful women and men who attended Harvard. Although, when he looks around a board room, and he has found the dart that he threw into the future, he sees, instead, his past Bosnia playmates and family members across the board room table, in comparing the present to the past. Or, he sees the stark reality of their absence, while comparing the present to the future possibilities (for him the world may feel open, where he is aware of their death). The comparison of the current reality to the Lie inside him, which says something like “You should be dead” “You’re a stupid orphans, nobody wants you,” will alter his perception. What seems possible, in his perception, will be different from the others in the room. And, his happiness or the current value of his happiness changed.
As with Gilbert’s wit inside his book on happiness, we must laugh at our incredible capacity to rise into taking actions that will give us safety, happiness, pride, contentment and other emotional states that live and then flee.  Of course, we begin again, and shift our sights onto new goals or plans.  And, with that shift comes new comparisons and predictions.  Knowing when to lay down our expectations and re-build value of what we have is the mastery of predictive skill.  Many use meditation for this and some use the simplicity and rowdiness of a family dinner.  Both activities give the us the chance to be still, and allow our perceptions to settle into shared reality.

Traci Ruble

Traci Ruble

Traci is a therapist and the CEO of PSYCHED & Managing Director of Sidewalk Talk. Her therapy work is centered around working with couples and individuals working on their relationships. Her many years in corporate life make her a good match for executives and leaders.

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