Dangerous Expectations

“Expectation is premeditated disappointment.”


The adjective “pithy” is defined as: precisely meaningful; forceful and brief. And the quote above, from Margaret Wheatley’s book So Far From Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World, is a primo example of a pithy observation if there ever was one.

Just four words, yet so cogently accurate and telling of something that foils so many of us. Whether the expectations are of a situation, a job, a trip, a relationship, the weather, or just a simple object—whatever it is, having expectations near inevitably sets us up for disappointment in one form or another.

I touched on expectations in the Jan 1st Notable Quote blog. (Hmmm, it seems I have started a custom of offering up a quote on the first of the month… I’ll do my best to keep it going!) Denmark, a country regularly at or near the top of the World Happiness Ratings, has high taxes (their equivalent to the GST is 25%) but a robust web of social services and security. The small country also has a population who are, collectively, pragmatic.

With roots in socialism, the Danes are also more egalitarian than many western countries. It is poor form in Denmark to think (or say!) you are better than someone else. But the real secret to all this happiness may be that the realist Danes also have collectively lower expectations. Read this exploration of Danish happiness in The Atlantic. When you don’t expect a lot, things generally turn out better than you anticipate. Lower expectations = less disappointment = more happiness.

It’s even reflected in the Danish language. “Hygge” (pronounced more-or-less like “he-you-guh”) defies literal translation but refers to a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment. Mmmm. Think many candles on a cold winter night.