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Jeff Wolf

Writer / Adventurer

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Could the answer to our happiness be found in NO expectations?

Barry suggests, tongue-in-cheek, that the answer to happiness is low expectations. Could the answer be that happiness is found in NO expectations? While low expectations would mean you’re seldom disappointed, it also speaks to a person’s self-worth; I do not deserve more or better. Having no expectations doesn’t diminish my sense of worth and it does more than reduce disappointment; it allows joy and contentment in all circumstances.

If I work a long day and expect dinner on the table when I get home, I am disappointed (and possibly angry) when the expectation is not met. If dinner is on the table, it is merely what I expected. I may exchange pleasantries and say “Thank You”. But the experience is completely different if I had no expectation and found that someone had thought of me and taken the time to prepare a meal for me. My gratitude is real. My enjoyment is real. The experience of the meal is increased.

When I expect nothing, I am more than just “not disappointed” when I receive. I am pleased and thankful, even for the smallest things.

Topics: future happiness
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    Sep 11 2011: For me personally, it isn't about abandoning expectations. Rather it is about my degree of emotional investment in them. If I choose to allow my happiness to be contingent on the fulfillment of my expectations, then I create the potential for unhappiness. If on the other hand, I build the possibility of non-fulfillment into the original expectation, then there is less risk to my happiness and greater joy in fulfillment.

    Allow me to illustrate this principle in action in my life. I smoked from a very young age. I was perhaps eleven when I snuck my first cigarette from my oldest brother. Twenty-some years later, after several failed attempts, I knew I had to stop. Always before, the expectation was that I would quit and the repeated failures always had a huge impact on my happiness and self-image. Eight years ago, I found what worked for me. Instead of quitting, I decided to see how long I could go without a cigarette. The deal being to acknowledge two things. First, every hour without a smoke was a success. Second, even if I only lasted a day, I would have succeeded for a day. Because the expectation wasn't to quit, having a cigarette wouldn't be a failure. There's not a day goes by that I don't want a cigarette. So far, I'm still pushing my personal record for not smoking. If I fall off the wagon tomorrow, I won't be a failure. I will just have to see how far I get next time.

    It's not about having no expectations. It's about managing them in a healthy way. It's about making them work for us instead of against us. It requires us to look at the source of a given expectation, understand it, and then tailor it to remove potentially toxic outcomes. This accommodates our naturally occurring expectations, without all their unpleasant emotional baggage.

    Cheers, Winston
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    Sep 1 2011: And what about expectation for reaching your goals? How would I put efforts into something if I do not expect to be successful?
    Expectations themsleves do not lead to disappointment. It is over-expectations that are usually not met and lead to some kind of frustration or disappointment. Maybe the really hard part is finding the line between reasonable expectation, hope and expecting too much of a situation or circumstances.
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    Aug 30 2011: The answer to our happiness can be found in NO expectations and also with expectations, there are many kind of happiness that we can feel, the ones you get with no expectations are spontaneous so the feeling of joy is unique, something that wont happen again.
    Now expectations can bring happiness too! you imagine something you want to do so badly and you know it will make you happy so you try the best to get to that goal, and when you reach that goal .... here it comes ... HAPPINESS ! :D something u knew it would happen, ...if you look for happiness, happiness will come to you.
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      Aug 30 2011: Hi Jessica,

      I collect quotes and just copied the following to my "quote file."

      If you look for happiness, happiness will come to you. – Jessica Figueroa

      I capitalized the "i" in "if."

      Is that okay with you?
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        Aug 30 2011: is totally fine :) and thank you for putting what i said in your quote collection.
        you know sometimes small acts are the ones that fill our hearts with joy
        and with this act that you just did brought me happiness so thank you:)
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          Aug 30 2011: QUOTE: "is totally fine :) "

          Thank you.

          QUOTE: "this act that you just did brought me happiness so thank you:)"

          My pleasure.
    • Aug 30 2011: Brene Brown in her talk said "honor the ordinary" this goes along with what you said Jessica and what Thomas quoted you for.

      Thomas, I agree in writing down tidbits that are meaningful. If you have a kindle. . . I wish there were an option to print all the highlighted lines I make to have for safe keeping!
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        Sep 1 2011: QUOTE: "Thomas, I agree in writing down tidbits that are meaningful. If you have a kindle. . . I wish there were an option to print all the highlighted lines I make to have for safe keeping!"

        That was my first question when I was checking out Kindles and similar products. It was the fact that you couldn't do that that made me decide not to get one.

        I have over 105 pages of quotes so far.
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          Sep 1 2011: which quotes are the ones that have impacted you the most?
        • Sep 1 2011: The quotes that you collect, from what I know of you here, would be a collection worth subscribing to!
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        Sep 1 2011: QUOTE: "which quotes are the ones that have impacted you the most?"

        Someone started a conversation about favourite quotes. This is copied from my response in that thread:

        The quotes I cite the most are:

        To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right. – Kong Zi (Confucius)

        And:

        If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This principle is key to effective interpersonal communication. - Stephen R. Covey

        I also like this one a lot:

        You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action! – Anthony Robbins

        But if I were to pick one quote as my favourite it would be:

        What you are looking for is within you.
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          Sep 5 2011: Such valuable words, thanks so much for sharing :)
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    Aug 24 2011: There was a case once presented by Oliver Sachs. It was about a man with a damaged brain in a way that his short term memory was absent. Every time his wife visited him which was daily he was totally in love that such a beautiful women would care for him. Everything was always new and thrilling.
  • Aug 23 2011: In answer to the question, yes. My meditation teacher once said that "hope is the source of all suffering." This put people off because it sounds depressing, but in truth "hope" is just a kinder word for "expectation." People think they are different but they are not.
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      Aug 23 2011: We are the same in who we are. We are different in the lies we tell ourselves.
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      Aug 23 2011: I think the meditation teacher has it way wrong. Hope is at the core of our being. Hope for better. Hope for continued success. Hope for a cure. Hope is why we live.

      In my opionion, expectations suggest an entitlement. Hope allows.
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        Aug 23 2011: LYNN that was beautiful.
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        Aug 24 2011: Hope is positive expectation. Despair or despondency (technically, "pessimism"), is negative expectation.

        I would disagree that hope is why we live - although it does sound very poetic. And, apparently, hopeful people do live longer, generally speaking.
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          Aug 24 2011: I think there is a massive difference between hoping and expecting.

          I can hope that it's sunny tomorrow - whereas expecting either implies I have information that suggests it will be or I have some sort of control.
      • Aug 24 2011: Hope and expectation are identical. In both cases we don't know for sure what will happen, and in both cases we can be right or wrong, happy or sad, with the outcome. The only difference is the positive or negative connotation of the words.
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          Aug 24 2011: Not epistemically, they are not, and I don't think they're semantically equivalent either.

          If I go beyond hoping to expecting, there is usually a reason - a pattern has been established, there is some additional information about the outcomes, something.

          Think of the difference at a horse race. I can hope #5 wins, and still expect that the #8 has the better chance.

          Poetically, I can hope against hope, but can I expect against expectation?
  • Sep 1 2011: I've lived expectation free for a long time, long enough that I barely remember what some of those things I wanted were..

    I think that having expectations and not meeting all of them brings far more happiness than having none at all.
  • Aug 30 2011: I see what you are saying with this question. If think in expecting nothing you also have to be able to recieve what is given to you.
  • Aug 28 2011: Happiness is temporary and usually arise out of expectations fulfilled. No expectations is a wonderful path to live without any state of mind (sorry, happy, fear, depression etc). That may be called as peace which is thousand times better than happiness
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    Aug 24 2011: Hi Jeff I think adjusting expectations is a quite a good way to reduce negative feelings like anger in what you mentioned in the example. and i wouldnt think it is The answers to happiness since expectations is not much correlated with happiness.
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      Aug 24 2011: Hi Amily.

      If I don’t expect something bad to happen, it would also reduce fear (maybe all negative emotions can be reduced this way). Hmmm ... want to think on that more.

      I’m trying to understand how happiness and expectations are not correlated (others have said this too). It seems to me that the happiness I experience (regardless of definition) is reduced when filtered through co-existing negative feelings like anger, pain, fear, sorrow, dread, etc. I agree that reducing the negative is not a cause of the positive. But if it has an impact on my experience of happiness (increasing it), then isn’t there a relationship between the two?

      I see this is not the answer to happiness, but it seems to be part of the tapestry that creates a more positive experience of living.
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        Aug 25 2011: I see what you mean ,you are kinda exploring that ...

        It seems to me that the happiness I experience (regardless of definition) is reduced when filtered through co-existing negative feelings like anger, pain, fear, sorrow, dread, etc.-thats sounds to me you attributed the reduced happiness to presence of negative feelings.and you agreed the absence of the negative feelings dosent increase happiness.

        so its like A can have impace on B but B dosent necessarily have imapact on A.
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    Aug 24 2011: Whether someone can be happy or not depends on their state of values.
  • Aug 24 2011: There would be no happiness without expectations. Without expecting anything to happen there would be no emotions.
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      Aug 24 2011: Happiness (or any emotion) is experienced in the present. Expectation is about a future that does not exist. If emotions are based on expectations, then I am expecting to be happy and I’ll miss experiencing it fully now.
      • Aug 24 2011: Does that mean all feelings are just illusions? They're not real.
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          Aug 24 2011: I think all the feelings I experience are real … I feel them so they are real to me. If they are based on a misconception, I’m not sure how I classify them. As an example (albeit not directly tied to expectations): I believe in the inherent worth of every individual, yet I experience many, many emotions that are based on the belief (or fear) that I am not worthy, not good enough, or not deserving. My feelings are real, but they are … ummm … unnecessary (?), false (?).

          Having said that (sort of), each time I recognize I am forgetting my own value and worth, I have the opportunity to increase my awareness of my worthiness. That makes the feelings based on misconception of value to me.

          By the way … I checked out your website. I liked the animation with the pictures on your home page. Do you take the fashion pictures as well as blog about the subject?
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    Aug 23 2011: Somewhat perversely, embracing the dark as well as the light is probably the path to happiness.

    Pure light is just blandness. Pure dark is just depression. But the two together will contrast with each other, and bring perceptions and senses into recognition, so we recognise their shape, colour and texture.
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      Aug 23 2011: I have a twist on the concept of opposites. The value in recognizing opposites is that they reveal a greater truth that encompasses both. I think we generally do a poor job of defining opposites though, so poor that it obscures the truth. What, specifically and in detail, do we mean by light? We have to know our own definitions before we can define its opposite. In reference to your example, pure darkness would be bland as well, wouldn’t it? And the blandness of pure light would create depression.

      I acknowledge the relationship between opposites and how you point out that they help us recognize their shape, color, and texture. I tend to diverge from convention wisdom though, in that I don’t believe experiencing (or embracing) both is required to bring about that recognition. My valleys have helped me understand and more fully experience my mountain tops. I believe that is a very common human experience. But I think it’s correlation, not causation. It is something that DOES happen, not MUST happen. In other words, I believe I can experience mountain tops without experiencing valleys, even though in my experience, I have had both. I can see truth without having to believe lies first.
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        Aug 23 2011: Agree that pure darkness would also be bland and pure light depressing. I was speaking in a metaphorical sense, where one forms the essential context for the other, resulting in clarity. It is similar to your mountain/valley analogy.

        Can I ask what you mean by "I can see truth without having to believe in lies first"? I can understand what you mean by the truth, but what are the lies, and where are they from?
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          Aug 24 2011: I’ve been trying to figure out how to be concise. I think I came across a workable example in my response to Cheyenne.

          I believe in the inherent worth of every individual (truth to me). In my experience, I can see that I do not always believe that about myself (a lie). I can become aware of the lie as part of exposing the truth, but don’t believe it’s necessary to believe the lie in order to be aware of the truth (i.e., I don’t first HAVE to see myself as unworthy to see my worthiness. I don’t HAVE to experience sorrow to know joy … they just happen that way a lot).

          To make matters more complicated for myself (and communication), I don’t generally use the term ‘lie’. I think it implies intent (to deceive). More accurate is to see the ‘lies’ as misconceptions (misunderstanding doesn’t imply intent, although it implies error). To be more precise (and create even more communication issues) I prefer to use ‘unawareness’. I am simply unaware of the truth … no intent to deceive and no error of judgment.

          In a larger sense then, I see ‘sin’ as believing a ‘lie’ which is merely a ‘misconception’ that indicates ‘unawareness’ of truth. Awareness becomes the goals.

          Where does unawareness (lies) come from? I believe it is our choice. In our experience, we each create our own understanding of reality by building on ‘lies’. Our fortress seems impregnable and we don’t understand how it can be a choice or how to make different ones.

          From an evolutionary perspective, our consciousness has developed (and is developing) so we can experience awareness. From a religious perspective, it is about knowing God. From a philosophical perspective, it is about knowing ourselves. From a mystical perspective it is about “the oneness.” From a psychological perspective it is about accepting ourselves. From a metaphysical perspective it is about understanding our existence without regard to time or space.

          I believe these are all the same (different perspectives of the same truth).
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        Aug 24 2011: "The law of the unity of opposites is the fundamental law of the universe. This law operates universally, whether in the natural world, in human society, or in man’s thinking. Between the opposites in a contradiction there is at once unity and struggle, and it is this that impels things to move and change." - Mao Zedong
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    Aug 23 2011: Do you expect to expect nothing?
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      Aug 23 2011: I would like expectancy to replace expectation. Expectation requires something to satisfy it, making it wholly dependent on circumstance. Expectancy is always satisfied; a state of living that does not require the fulfillment of desire to experience joy, satisfaction, peace, and contentment.
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        Aug 23 2011: ex·pect·an·cy/ikˈspektənsē/
        Noun: The state of thinking or hoping that something, esp. something pleasant, will happen or be the case.

        --------------------

        I'm not quite sure why people think the absence of something will result in happiness.

        The absence of darkness is not light. It is void.

        The absence of war is not peace. Peace is peace.

        The absence of thirst will not satisfy hunger (or thirst for that matter.)

        The absence of expectancy will not result in happiness.

        Actually, nothing "results" in happiness; happiness is not a consequence - but that's another conversation.
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          Aug 23 2011: I think I’m using the same definition of expectancy, but focusing on a specific point when I contrast expectation and expectancy. I definitely want to live in a “state of thinking that something pleasant will happen”. That is significantly different to me than having an expectation that something specific will happen, or should happen.

          Maybe my point is a corollary to your statement that people think the absence of something will result in happiness: people also think the presence of something will result in happiness (expectation). I think happiness is not dependent on circumstance (I completely agree that nothing “results” in happiness).
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        Aug 23 2011: QUOTE: "I completely agree that nothing “results” in happiness"

        If you agree nothing results in happiness, then you have answered your own question: Having no expectation will not result in happiness.

        Having no expectation (if it were possible) would result in having no expectation.
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          Aug 24 2011: “Could the answer be that happiness is found in NO expectations?” (My original question.) Also (from the original), “Having no expectations … allows joy and contentment in all circumstances”

          My question and statement mention finding and allowing, not resulting. To me, finding means something already exists. If happiness is not being experienced, it can be found or discovered (I can become aware of it). Not having an expectation would simply allow me to see, for example, an act of love in providing me dinner (as in my original example). I am aware of my happiness when I experience acts of love.

          I do believe that having no expectations is possible. However, I currently have no intention of devoting my life to the singular focus of getting there.
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        Aug 24 2011: My expectation is that many of my expectations will not necessarily be fulfilled. Or, in even simpler terms: I do not expect my expectations to be fulfilled. And I'm okay with that.

        I agree that expectations (unmet) are a source of disappointment.

        The disappointment comes, in part, from the expectation itself, and, in part, from the expectation that expectations should be fulfilled.

        Expectations have little to nothing to do with happiness.
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          Aug 24 2011: I see what you're saying now (I think). I look at "I do not expect my expectations to be fulfilled" as 'desire' or 'want' and expectations as being much closer to the fulfillment of desire.

          Given that though, I see desire (not the fulfillment) as having much to do with happiness.
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        Aug 24 2011: QUOTE: "“Could the answer be that happiness is found in NO expectations?” (My original question.) Also (from the original), “Having no expectations … allows joy and contentment in all circumstances”

        Based on your responses, I am guessing you already have an answer you find satisfying.

        Personally, I see no connection between expectation and happiness (other than we have to be alive to experience both.) ...

        Joy and contentment are not dependent on expectation. They, like happiness, are not consequences. They are not the outcome of a "formula" - one part enlightenment, minus two parts expectation = happiness (joy or contentment.) Or: One spouse + one (good) career + 2.4 kids + 250 friends + faith = happiness (joy or contentment.)

        If you are looking for water, you will find it in a well. It does not matter whether you expect to find it or whether you expect not to find it.

        Water only has meaning if you are thirsty.

        Happiness, joy, and contentment are like water (they are nouns not adjectives.)

        We will find them where they are regardless of our expectation. (Our expectation - and our thirst - might affect whether we look or not ... but, again, that is another conversation.)

        We sometimes (understandably) mistake our emotional state for happiness (or the lack thereof.)

        It seems to me, we often see ourselves as "the centre of the universe:" Our personal experiences, we assume, define happiness, love, reality, whatever.
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          Aug 24 2011: If being satisfied with my answer means I think it is the end-all and be-all, that I am unwilling to alter my perceptions, or that I think it is the final truth, then no, I’m not satisfied. If it means that it is a workable answer for me that seems logically sound and supported by anecdotal experience, then yes, I’m satisfied with my answer.

          Barry’s talk postulates that happiness is reduced by ever-increasing options (that he associates with freedom) because we tend to expect that there would have been a better outcome from the choice(s) we didn’t make. I agree with you that expectations (or the lack of them), do not cause happiness, but I still fail to see how they are not correlated. If one thing reduces or increases my experience of something else, then there is a relationship, even if it’s not causal. Can you explain your point more?

          In your example of water, you would only be looking for it in wells if you expected it to be there. But if you only look in wells, you may miss the stream flowing by. You may also miss (and be annoyed at) the rain getting in your eyes while you desperately search for water where you expect it to be.

          I guess I see a close relationship between expectation and happiness even in your comparison to water. If expectation affects whether we look for happiness or not, then I see a relationship.

          If you have the opportunity to continue, please help me understand.

          Thanks Thomas!
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        Aug 25 2011: QUOTE: "If one thing reduces or increases my experience of something else, then there is a relationship, even if it’s not causal. Can you explain your point more?"

        Your experience of a thing and the thing are not the same ... thing.

        Imagine a hot stove. Now imagine putting your hand on the hot stove.

        Will your expectation have an impact on the outcome?

        Will your expectation have an impact on the experience?

        We could argue that expectation could have an impact on both the outcome and on the experience.

        Would the impact be "significant?"

        I don't think so.

        Your hand will hurt, and you will need treatment.

        Is the burn an "imagined" experience; or is it "real?"

        Is happiness an "imagined" experience; or is it "real?"

        If happiness is an imagined experience, then expectation would have a huge impact.

        If happiness is a real experience, then expectation would have about the same impact on it as it has on your hand.
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    Aug 23 2011: " Lack of hope, is true sense of freedom ! " ... maybe a reason for self happiness but with no expectation , no completion , and no development.
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      Aug 23 2011: I don’t equate no expectations with no hope (if that is what you mean). Lack of expectation provides freedom from being driven by or affected by external circumstances (or being disappointed by them).

      I find hope to be complicated. I generally think of hope in terms of “tomorrow, next week, next year will be better.” It is better to me to be happy now, without comparing it to a future that “must be better than today.” In that regard, hope is a coping mechanism to get me through all the todays I experience. In that way of looking at it, hope is somewhat the same as wishing. On the other hand, hopelessness is debilitating and I don’t put that in the same category as not having expectations.

      I also don’t equate having no expectations with apathy, lack of drive, or lack of purpose. On the contrary, as I experiment with the idea, I have experienced significant development and have made meaningful progress. I want to understand the seeming paradox more.
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    Aug 23 2011: For me happines is not about expectations it is about awareness. You can be the richest and healthiest guy on earth surrounded by a good loving family and true entertaining friends. But there are still children out there who suffer abuse or poverty. How on earth can you be happy ?
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      Aug 23 2011: I agree about awareness. For me, one way to explain removing expectations is combining awareness that the future is really unlimited possibilities with the awareness that I have the capacity to not allow any circumstance to alter my state of well-being. If I can experience joy, peace, and contentment in my own circumstances of abuse and poverty, then my being aware of others’ suffering will not diminish my experience. I have found it motivates me to make a difference.